Jessica Ekstrom – Creator of Headbands of Hope

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Jessica Ekstrom - Creator of Headbands of Hope

Always remain true to yourself. If someone has doubts or doesn’t like it, then they’re not worth your time!

Entrepreneur, fashion designer, philanthropist and college senior Jessica Ekstrom, 21, has created a line of vibrantly colored headbands to help young girls with cancer. After an inspirational internship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation where she met several young girls with cancer, Jessica saw firsthand how much losing their hair during chemotherapy treatments affected the girls’ self-esteem and confidence. She wanted to give them something to boost their spirits and make them smile when they looked in the mirror. That inspiration led to the creation of Headbands of Hope, an organization with a mission to fund research for childhood cancer and spread hope in all girls, one headband at a time. Jessica hopes that the headbands provide these young girls with a physical reminder that they will always be beautiful and give them a way to maintain their feminine identity.

Each time a headband is purchased, Headbands of Hope sends a headband to a girl with cancer, and for the sale of each headband $1 is donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding life-saving childhood cancer research. Check out all of the fun styles of headbands available at www.headbandsofhope.org. For more information about the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, visit www.StBaldricks.org.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on my company I launched in April called Headbands of Hope. For every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to fund life-saving childhood cancer research. Right now I’m working on establishing the brand and gaining exposure…and also getting my undergrad degree!

Where did the idea for Headbands of Hope come from?

Last year I did an internship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation that changed my life forever. That summer, I spent nonpaid, non-accredited hours every day working to make these kids wishes come true. I was planning trips to the zoo, calling Taylor Swift, booking trips to Disney World. Every day, I got to wake up and grant the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. I took day trips to visit the wish kids at their houses and bring them their favorite toys. We received hundreds of letters from wish children that said we changed their lives. But little did they know, they were changing mine.

I found that the girls loved to wear headbands instead of wigs when they lost their hair to chemotherapy. Headbands were the perfect way for them to keep their feminine identity and still feel girly. Therefore, I wanted to think of a way I could provide headbands for girls with cancer. After many hours sitting in Starbucks with a pad and pencil, Headbands of Hope was born.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m definitely one of those people that does not work well with routine. Therefore, one of the best things about my job is that I never know what the next day will bring. One day I’ll be working on our fall headband collection and the next day I’ll be working with hospitals to organize a headband distribution.

Some days are extremely fun and rewarding, like going to the hospitals to give headbands to the girls or setting up headband displays in stores. But just like every company there are less exciting days like working with finances and numbers (which is not my specialty).

But monitoring social media and keeping up with emails are tasks I have to do every day. However, I love using social media to stay connected with all of my “hope” followers and continue to raise awareness about childhood cancer through Headbands of Hope. And, of course, email is what makes my world go round. I spend a lot of my day answering emails.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I believe passion is the driving force of bringing ideas to life. If you want something badly enough, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from getting there. As a 21-year-old student, there are always distractions (like homework and exams) and people who doubt you because of your age. But I wanted to create Headbands of Hope so badly, that nothing was going to stop me. Not even midterms!

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Shopping with “meaning” is a trend that really excites me. More specifically, the trend of philanthropic companies. Brands with a cause attached to them are becoming more prevalent and I think it’s brilliant. I don’t believe you have to be a non-profit to make a difference.

When I started Headbands of Hope, I created a job that I can wake up every day knowing that I’m making a difference and making a living. I don’t think you should have to choose between earning a living and devoting yourself to the causes that inspire you. I believe you should be able to do both.

I’m happy to say that I’m providing pediatric cancer patients with headbands, donating to research, bringing much needed awareness childhood cancer and making a living at the same time.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I’ve had a bunch of quirky jobs: birthday party host at an inflatable bounce place, an ice cream girl in Disney World, a water sports camp counselor, a group fitness instructor etc. All of these jobs had their ups and downs. I remember having cake smashed in my hair when I was a birthday party host and then I remember having to scrape gum off the bottom of tables in Disney World. But I learned that no matter what your role is in a company, you’re still an integral part. Now that I’m CEO of my own company, I make sure that everyone feels that what they’re doing is important, because it is. At the end of the day, someone has to get the gum off the table and I’m glad I had the experience of being the one to do it!

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

When I was first starting out and communicating with business and charities for partnerships, I hid the fact that I was in college. I thought the fact that I couldn’t even legally drink yet would make me sound like I wasn’t credible. However, I learned that I needed to embrace my age and use it to my advantage. Therefore, I switched my mentality to: Yes, I’m the CEO and I still have to do my homework before my Spanish class tomorrow.

I quickly learned that this unique aspect of myself was often an attraction to others about my company. It was still Headbands of Hope. But it turned into: Headbands of Hope, which was started by a college student.

Always remain true to yourself. If someone has doubts or doesn’t like it, then they’re not worth your time!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Network, network and network. The connections I’ve made have been so critical to my success. You never know who you’re standing in line with at the grocery store or sitting beside on a plane. That person could be a potential customer or even a connection to a partnership. You never know so you might as well ask them about the weather!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I wish I would have known more about the production side of creating a product. There are a lot of details about manufacturing and production that I needed to learn in order to understand how to run my company. As CEO, it’s important to learn every part of your company so you can make better decisions with everyone and everything in mind.

At the beginning, I was so focused on launching the company that I made leaps that I should have thought through more carefully. In the end, it all worked out, but I now know to learn about all areas of my company.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Starting a for-profit company with a cause. You shouldn’t have to choose between making a living and making a difference. If there is a cause you’re passionate about, see if there is a way you can not only make a difference, but live the life you want at the same time.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

If I could change one thing in the world, it would be finding a cure for cancer. I can honestly say that I hope I’m out of a job as soon as possible. I hope Headbands of Hope won’t be around in 10 years, because there will be a cure for cancer. I think I’m one of the few people that can say I would love nothing more than happy to be out of a job, if that means there’s a cure. It’s an honor to work with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to help fund life-saving childhood cancer research in hopes of making our dream of a cure come true.

Tell us a secret.

My favorite Pandora station is 90’s hits. Especially the boy bands like NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. Don’t tell anyone!

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Shopify.com, it makes creating a ecommerce website easy and fun. For people who can’t code like me, it saves me a lot of time and money.

Hootsuite.com- social media can be really time consuming. Hootsuite makes it easy to manage all of your social media outlets at once.

Mailchimp.com- allows me to compose all my newsletters and makes it easy to design and import users.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It’s an amazing book about a Carnegie Mellon professor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It includes stories of his childhood, lessons he wants his children to learn, and things he wants his children to know about him. He repeatedly stresses that people should have fun in everything they do, and live life to its fullest because one never knows when it might be taken. It’s definitely a book that puts your life in perspective.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Ethan Zohn- Survivor winner and cancer crusher. Beyond that, he’s just an amazing guy with his head on straight about life.

St. Baldrick’s Foundation- Amazing organization making leaps and bounds in childhood cancer research. Not to mention, who doesn’t want to see people shave their head for a good cause?

Shop With Meaning- exposes brands and companies with products that make a difference. Great way to do your shopping!

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Ten minutes ago when I was in Spanish class and I accidentally said “run like the window” instead of “run like the wind” when I was practicing my Spanish metaphors. The rest of the class got a kick out of it too.

Who is your hero?

This may sound cheesy, but I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my dad. My dad started his own company as well, so he’s been a huge role model for me throughout this whole journey. He understands the late nights on your computer and putting your heart and soul into something you believe in. He’s taught me so much just by leading by example. As CEO, you have ups and downs all the time. My dad taught me to bounce back when I get kicked down and also to use my momentum when I’m making progress.

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

I look for someone who has the patience for the little details- because I don’t! I’m more of a big picture kind of gal, so finding someone to balance that who is more detailed oriented is crucial. Often times, people want to hire people who are like themselves, but we should really be looking for people who can do what we don’t do!

But most importantly, I look for heart. I know- here I go again with the cheesiness. But if I come across a cover letter or an interview with an applicant who has the heart and passion to work for Headbands of Hope, it’s hard to turn those away. I believe that in the end, heart and passion for what you’re doing overrides skill and experience.

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

One of my favorite quotes is by Richard Branson, “The people who think they’re crazy enough to change the world, are the ones that do.”

This quote speaks volumes to me. I feel that you have to have a little “crazy” in you to really make a difference. If you believe you can do it, then there’s nothing that should get in your way. It takes that extra kick of passion (that craziness) to help you jump the hurdles and reach further. But it’s up to you to find what makes you “crazy”!

Connect:

Headbands of Hope’s Website: www.headbandsofhope.org
Headbands of Hope on Facebook: www.facebook.com/headbandsofhope
Headbands of Hope on Twitter: @headbandsofhope

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This interview was posted by Mario Schulzke.
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