Women’s Health magazine named the leader of this Raleigh company as the ‘Ultimate Game Changer’

Jess Ekstrom is the driving force behind Headbands for Hope, which makes hair accessories and donates headbands to child cancer patients.
Jess Ekstrom is the driving force behind Headbands for Hope, which makes hair accessories and donates headbands to child cancer patients. Headbands for Hope

Triangle readers of Women’s Health magazine might notice a familiar face in the pages of the October issue. Raleigh designer and entrepreneur Jess Ekstrom, founder of Headbands for Hope, was chosen the winner of the publication’s annual Ultimate Game Changer competition.

Ekstrom was selected among five finalists from hundreds of reader entries and earned the most votes in an online poll to win the competition.

For most, that would be big enough news, but Ekstrom has even more to celebrate this month. Her company – which makes hair accessories and donates headbands to child cancer patients – also partnered with Conair’s Scünci hair accessory brand. Ekstrom created a collection of headbands for the company that are available now in Ulta stores across the country and online at For each of the accessories purchased, a headband will be donated to a child with cancer.

The recognition also comes just a few months after Ekstrom and her company were spotlighted on “Good Morning America”’s “Deals and Steals on Wheels” segment that came to downtown Raleigh in May. Ekstrom, in addition to getting a few minutes to talk about her cause, also received $10,000 for the company.

For Ekstrom, who started her company while still a student at N.C. State, this national recognition is the product of years of hard work.

“With every big milestone we hit, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind them,” she says. “These are two huge wins for us that are a result of a meaningful vision, a tenacious team and not turning around at the first sign of difficulty. To me, it’s important to be transparent about that to hopefully inspire future leaders to keep going, even when it’s hard.”

Ekstrom plans to expand the business with product offerings beyond headbands, as well as DIY headband kits that will be donated to hospitals for art therapy programs for children.

“So not only are we fulfilling our mission of providing headbands to kids with cancer, we’re giving them a creative outlet along the way,” she says.

Those kids remain the driving force behind Ekstrom’s business. Through her support of local hospitals, she’s been able to meet and help hundreds of kids over the years. One of those young survivors will even serve as the flower girl in Ekstrom’s wedding this fall.

“The moments when we get to visit the hospitals or receive pictures and letters from patients are really the heartbeat behind our business,” Ekstrom says. “I credit the success of Headbands of Hope to the intrinsic motivation to truly make a difference that everyone on our team has.”

This week in trunks

▪ Kannon’s Clothing in Cameron Village hosts a double trunk show of new styles from J’Envie Sportswear and E.L.I. Oct. 5-6 in its women’s store. For details, call 919-365-7074.

▪ Pants are the word at Raleigh’s StyleFinder Boutique during the Perfect Pants Party and Insight NY trunk show Oct. 6-7. Shoppers can try out the company’s Modern Fit pants, created to flatter women of all sizes. For each pair of pants purchased during the two days, StyleFinder will donate $5 to Dress for Success Triangle. Call 919-454-3068 for more information.

▪ The fall trunk show series continues Oct. 6-7 at Dovecote Style boutique in Pittsboro’s Fearrington Village with sweaters, pants and more from New Form Perspective Studio. Call 919-542-1145 for more info.

Vintage jewelry show

Joint Venture Jewelry in Cary will have vintage gems from the late 1800s to the 1940s in the store for its annual vintage jewelry show, Oct. 4-14. Shoppers can score discounts on antique pieces during the event. For details, call 919-678-0092.

Marshalls open

Discount retailer Marshalls has opened a new location Raleigh in the Poyner Place shopping center on Anchor Lane. The 22,000-square-foot store carries men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, along with home goods and accessories.

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