- What motivated & inspired you to start your business?
During the summer of 2011 when I was in college, I interned at a wish-granting organization for kids with life-threatening illnesses. A lot of kids would lose their hair to chemotherapy and be offered a wig or a hat. But a lot of them weren't interested in covering up their heads, they just wanted to restore their self confidence after hair loss. Headbands were the perfect way for them to do that.
I started searching for organizations that provided headbands to kids undergoing chemotherapy but couldn’t find any. Therefore, I founded Headbands of Hope in April 2012 during my junior year of college. For every headband sold, one is given to a child with cancer.
- Where is Headbands of Hope located?
Headbands of Hope is headquartered in Raleigh, NC.
- Tell us about your business
Headbands of Hope restores confidence and self-expression in children undergoing cancer treatment through a simple accessory. For every headband sold, one is given to a child with cancer.
The headbands are sold online at HeadbandsofHope.com and in over 1,000 stores across the US and Canada. Our styles range from flowers, beads, bows, diamonds and other embellishments. Sizes are available from babies to adults. Our goal is for women of every age and every style to find a headband suitable for them.
On June 20th, 2015, we officially donated headbands to every children’s hospital in the United States. We’ve also developed a boy line of headbands so we can help all kids when we visit the hospitals.
Headbands of Hope has been featured on the Today Show, Vanity Fair, Seventeen, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fitness Magazine and worn by celebrities like Lea Michele, Lauren Conrad, Zooey Deschanel and Whitney Port.
- What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Being a college student (2013 grad of NC State University), I had so many resources right at my fingertips to help build a business plan and get the ball rolling. I set up meetings with the business school (I was a communications major with no business experience), graphic design students, textile professors and anyone else I felt could help me.
I didn’t spend too much time worrying about having everything in place. I just started working and things started to come together, even though I didn’t have everything planned out from the beginning. Of course I made mistakes along the way, but you learn from them and move on. If you want something bad enough, there should be no obstacle too big to stop you.
- What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
The great thing about Headbands of Hope is the stories behind every purchase. Social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, have both been instrumental platforms for sharing our cause and what we do. We don’t want people to just purchase a headband and get a receipt. We want them to feel connected to the impact they just made with their purchase.
We can share these stories through the individual pictures we get from the hospitals or from the families of the kids and the YouTube video we created. On our website, we have a Giving Gallery of pictures of the kids wearing our headbands.
Another important way we get our name out there is making our product shareable. People want to tell other people about their headband and where they got it. Our packaging makes it easy for our customers to plug us on social media and tell their friends and family about their purchase.
- What have been your biggest challenges so far with running your business?
Sometimes it’s hard always being “on the clock.” As an entrepreneur, your company is 100% your responsibility. There’s no room to point fingers at anyone; everything is on you. Therefore, I feel compelled to always be connected. And in this day and age with technology, it’s easy to always be plugged in.
But always having your earphones in and email up isn’t healthy. I think sometimes we’re programmed to see people who are always working as hard workers. That may be the case, but constant work doesn’t mean constant quality. Instead, pick and choose your times when you work and put in the best quality.
- How did you overcome these challenges?
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to not check email after 8 pm! I’ve also grown to a point where I could hire a team of staff so I can focus on growing the company instead of just keeping maintaining it.
I realized just running myself into the ground with work and responsibility wasn’t helping Headbands of Hope grow. Instead, I needed to focus on quality of work versus quantity and hire when it hurts. When our wholesale partnerships with stores started significantly increasing, I hired a Director of Wholesale. However, I still do all the graphics and social media myself because that’s something I feel that I can manage and that I excel in. Don’t just hire because you can. Hire only when it hurts.
- What do you love about running your own business?
I love solving problems. I once read in a book called Rework that starting a business is like having an itch. You find an “itch” that bothers you or is an issue and you create a “scratch.” Girls not feeling feminine and having low self-esteem after hair-loss is my itch. Headbands of Hope is my scratch.
When you find a social issue or a problem that needs help and you create a solution, you also understand the value of what you do a lot more than if you just pulled a business idea off the internet.
And because of that, I know that every minute I spend on my company is connected to something I believe in. Not every day is glamorous, but I can always remember my purpose and why I started.
- What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
In the book Start With Why by Simon Sinek, he defines the difference between success and achievement. Achievement comes when you attain WHAT you want. Success comes when you’re in clear pursuit of WHY you want it.
It helped me realize that we need to stop seeing tangible achievements as our final destination. We can attain a new car and expensive vacations, but we can only feel success deep in our hearts, where it’s difficult to put those feelings into words.
The moment I open the door to a girl’s hospital room with a basket of headbands and see her smile, that’s when I feel my success. There’s no other way to explain it. There’s no numerical number I hit or competitor I beat. It’s just that feeling that I get where I know that all my hard work is making an impact and changing a life.
When you have a clear vision of your “why,” work doesn’t have to feel like work. My biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs is to not just find your why, but also keep it in clear sight. Put it in a frame, wear it on a bracelet, post it on your fridge. When things get hard, your why can get blurry. Always keep it in clear focus to help you through it.
- How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
On top of running my business, I do a lot of public speaking on college campuses about taking action and standing up for the millennial generation. Because of this, I feel a responsibility to be a role model for my generation.
When things get tough, I have a file of the hundreds of letters and messages I’ve received from students saying my story inspired them to live a life of purpose. Of course I’m motivated by my cause and the kids we benefit, but also knowing that my story has helped inspire the younger generation to take action and responsibility on social issues really keeps me motivated to keep moving forward.
- Do you have a business philosophy?
Never stop learning. No matter how many successful businesses you’ve started or how seasoned of an entrepreneur you are, everyone has room to learn from each other. We also cannot keep looking to the top for guidance, we can learn from everyone we come in contact with, no matter his or her status.
Don’t be afraid to startup conversations with strangers, sign up for random classes (I’m taking improv comedy classes!), subscribe to advice newsletters and attend conferences frequently.
- Why did you launch Headbands of Hope?
During the summer of 2011, I did an internship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I found that girls loved to wear headbands instead of wigs after losing their hair to treatment. The girls at Make-A-Wish touched my heart so much and I wanted to develop a way where every girl battling cancer could have a headband.
- What was your 'Aha' moment to launch your business?
A 4-year-old girl with brain cancer wished to go to Disney World to meet Sleeping Beauty for her wish. A week before her trip, her cancer took a turn and the doctors sent her home saying she could have her last few weeks with her family.
A couple days later, I showed up on her doorstep dressed as Sleeping Beauty. I brought her a princess dress and crown and read her the story of Sleeping Beauty. A week later, she passed away. Her mother called me saying she was at peace with her daughter’s passing because she knew she got everything she ever wanted: to meet Sleeping Beauty.
At this point, I knew I wanted to take action of my own to help these girls. They’re already risking losing their life, their hair-loss should be the last thing they have to worry about.
- What has been the most touching moment when gifting headbands at hospitals?
Every time I walk into a hospital room, my whole life shifts around and nothing else matters except for that moment. One time, I gave a girl a headband and she said she wanted to give me a headband too but asked if it was okay that my headband was on a piece of paper.
On another hospital visit, I met a 15-year-old girl and spent the day with her. Her mom called me a week later saying that she had passed away. Her mom said she was calling me because she wanted headbands for all of the women to wear to her funeral the next day because she loved her headband so much during her last week of life.
It’s moments like these that define why I do what I do. If I can make a girl feel normal and comfortable in her own skin with just a headband, then I’m going to do everything I can to make give a headband to every girl battling cancer.
- How do you select which hospitals to work with?
We contact hospitals around the nation and we also take requests from hospitals for headbands. We also work with St. Baldrick’s to donate to hospitals they work with. We’ve never turned down a donation and we never plan to!
- As a young entrepreneur, it already is a difficult path. Why did you choose to add a charity component as well?
I think I became an entrepreneur because of a charity that grabbed me, not because I wanted to be an entrepreneur. There are so many negative stereotypes to my young 20s generation. I love being able to stand against those stereotypes and serve as proof that you’re never too young to start something you believe in.
- What is your advice for other young entrepreneurs that want to start a business with a cause?
Every great accomplishment starts with the decision to go for it. I’m a speaker at CAMPUSPEAK, and one of the main points I like to share with college students is making the decision to take risks. It can be really scary, but if we didn’t take risks, there would be no exploration, small businesses or other factors that drive innovation. Also, there will always be an excuse that it’s not a “good time.” There’s no such thing as the perfect time! I started Headbands of Hope when I was taking an 18-hour course load. If you believe in something enough, time isn’t an issue.
- What dictates the aesthetic of the headband – seasonal trends or needs of the young girls?
The headbands we donate to young girls are always the classic shabby headbands. The wide bands sit comfortably on their heads and the flowers add volume since they usually don’t have hair.
The collections we have to sell are dictated by seasonal trends. For example, chevron was really popular this spring so we started adding that pattern to our designs. Now we’re seeing a lot of desires for bows so we added chiffon bows to our collections. We’re always looking for fresh styles for our hope shoppers!
- What is next for Headbands of Hope?
Ideally, in 10 years, Headbands of Hope won’t be around. I think I’m one of the few people that can say I hope I’m out of a job because I hope there’s a cure for cancer.
But in the meantime, I’d like to continue to push forward with new styles and collections. In the future, we'd like to sponsor proms for children's hospitals and keep working towards a cure.
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