A headband is a simple thing: a strip of brightly colored fabric, adorned with cotton flowers or bejeweled hoops.
A headband, however, becomes a powerful thing in the hands of senior communication major Jessica Ekstrom. As an intern at the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Charlotte last year, Ekstrom saw firsthand what a headband can do for a child going through cancer treatments.
“I found that when the girls would lose their hair to treatment, they liked to wear headbands instead of wigs to still feel girly and keep their feminine identity,” Ekstrom said.
That experience drove Ekstrom to start Headbands of Hope, a clothing company specializing in headwear for pediatric cancer patients. For every headband she sells, one headband goes to a child with cancer and $1 goes to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for childhood cancer research. Available online and in roughly 20 stores on the east and west coasts, the headbands cost $9.85 to $17.85.
Headbands of Hope is both a service project and post-graduate job for Ekstrom.
“I believe that people shouldn’t have to choose between making a living and making a difference,” she said. “I believe you can do both, and Headbands for Hope allows me to do it.”
Balancing a full courseload in the College of Humanities and Social Sciencesand a new business was a challenge, Ekstrom said. But being a student also had its advantages. Faculty in the College of Textiles helped her overcome design and supply-chain challenges, and students from the College of Design created her company logo.
“I had the resources of the university to fill all the gaps I didn’t know,” she said.
Ekstrom launched Headbands of Hope in April. She made her first sale 12 minutes after her website went live. The business has only grown since: she has sold more than 2,000 headbands and added Headbands of Hope representatives on 20 college campuses.
Going forward, she hopes to start offering toboggans or beanies for male pediatric cancer patients. As for the company’s long-term future, Ekstrom is in the peculiar position of hoping it doesn’t have one.
“I hope that I don’t have to have a long-term vision because I hope that I’m out of a job because there’s a cure for cancer,” she said.