Recently it’s near impossible to read any story on any news outlet that doesn’t make you shake your head in disbelief over what is going on in the world. It’s like a domino effect of one issue, mishap or scandal after another. Every. Day.
I almost dread switching the TV from The Mickey Mouse Club to any news channel because I know it will make me sad, angry or even at times, hopeless.
While I don’t want to live in ignorance, I also crave more feel-good stories. Features on people who are making a positive difference and leaving an incredible mark on this world. So when I recently listened to Jess Ekstrom on a panel about social media, I had to meet her.
Jess is the founder and CEO of Headbands of Hope. For every item purchased, they donate a headband to a child with cancer, and since 2012 they have officially donated to every chidren’s hospital in the U.S. As you can imagine, Jess is a very busy woman, but she was kind enough to take the time to chat with me. I needed to know more. I needed to know about Jess, the impetus behind Headbands of Hope. I needed a feel good story about a woman who was so passionate about a cause that she took action.
Here’s a little more about Jess and her company, Headbands of Hope. Get ready to feel some major inspo.
What was the impetus behind starting Headbands of Hope and can you give me the scoop on what exactly you do?
I was interning at Make-A-Wish and saw kids were only offered wigs and hats, but a lot of them wanted to wear headbands after hair loss. So I started Headbands of Hope when I was 19. For every headband sold, one is given to a child with cancer.
Before you started Headbands of Hope, what were you doing? What’s your background?
I was a student at NC State University studying Communications thinking I was going to be a journalist!
When did you have that “aha” moment that you were on to something…what spurred it?
There really wasn’t an ‘aha’ moment, more just a tiny spark. I saw there were a lot of kids wearing headbands, but no one was donating them. I called hair accessory companies asking for donations. When that got too exhausting and unreliable, I figured I needed to create something myself.
Can you tell me more about the creation of the headbands?
I used to make them myself starting out, but then I realized I was terrible at crafts. Now we have a product developer that comes up with designs and manufactures them. We make most of our headbands adjustable so they can fit all ages, head sizes, and their comfy and don’t slide.
Do you have any favorites?
My favorites change every day! But right now they’re the ones that are chokers and also headbands.
I’m sure you are met with a wealth of support for such an incredible cause, but what has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge has probably just been the pressures of being an entrepreneur. It can be emotionally draining and you feel like you have to be ‘on’ all the time and constantly thinking about your business. I’ve tried to have a healthier relationship with my work and having a great team of people that helps me execute has been a big part of that.
Were there any mistakes you made that you learned from?
I used to let myself get walked on because I was young and insecure. I thought I didn’t fit in as a business owner and would allow people to tell me what to do and everything I’m doing wrong. Now I realize that no one has it all figured out and that’s ok that I don’t. I still take advice from people I look up to, but I’ve tried to be stronger in how I’m treated.
Along your journey, what has been your most memorable moment to date?
When I first got started, I got a letter from a mom who’s daughter was finishing up chemotherapy and about to start kindergarten. She really didn’t want to go to school because her hair had not grown back yet and she thought everyone would think she’s a boy. She got a headband from us in the hospital, and then got home and laid out her outfit and all of her school supplies to match. That’s when I realized what we’re doing is powerful and I need to keep going with it.
What do you have planned for Headbands on Hope in the coming years? What do you hope for its future?
We just started expanding into products beyond headbands, like shirts, bags, and other accessories. Same mission but different products to help scale it. But our ultimate goal would be to go out of business because there’s a cure for cancer. It would be so great to not have to do this anymore because the problem that inspired us doesn’t exist anymore.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
There’s room for everyone at the top. Someone else’s success isn’t robbing you of yours.
What’s your favorite piece of advice to give?
Success is not what it looks like to others, it’s what it feels like to you.
Best part of your job?
Going into the hospitals and seeing the kids, and also getting to work with such a great team every day.
And now for our lightning round…
Biggest Inspiration – my dad
Biggest fear – the game Operation (I hate loud noises)
Original career you saw for yourself – writer for Seventeen Magazine
Favorite quote – “There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.” – Kurt Hahn
Jess is an inspiration on so many levels. The very premise of her company is the most obvious example of that. But she’s also an inspiration to so many hopeful entrepreneurs who have ideas and and a passion. I hope you will take a moment to check out Headbands of Hope and maybe even make a purchase to support what Jess is doing. Because she is a reminder that there is still so much good in this world and when we find it we need to nurture it, support it and celebrate it!
(You can follow Headbands of Hope and Jess on instagram at @headbandsofhope and @jess_ekstrom)