LEWISTON — Lewiston native Rebecca Buckley started her headband company 15 years ago, making them in her mom’s living room and catering to runners with custom gripping, wicking material.

Rebecca Buckley’s children in her Bondi Band warehouse with the new button headbands. Submitted photo

When coronavirus hit and a hundred spring trade shows tanked, she worried she’d have to lay off everyone at Bondi Band. Then, Buckley saw a nurse on social media adding buttons to a headband and slinging her face mask elastics over the buttons to provide relief to her sore ears

“I got about 50 people in one day saying, ‘You should do this’ or ‘Will you do this because I like your fabric,'” said Buckley, 44.

Her six stitchers, all in Lewiston-Auburn, got to work. She’s donated more than 1,500 of them to hospitals so far, one for every one ordered.

Buckley, a 1993 Saint Dominic Academy graduate, started out making the headbands for herself and for craft fairs. She named the company after Australia’s Bondi Beach and made the first ones out of bathing suit material.

“Back then, there was no Lycra on the market for a headband — it seems funny now to think about because they’re everywhere,” she said. “I worked with a company to develop a proprietary fabric for sweat, that’s where it’s different. I have a wicking fabric that has a waffle side and a flat side that helps evaporate (sweat) rather than just soak it up. It helps stay on your hair because it has a texture to it.”

To get the brand out in the world, Bondi Band attends 350 running expos a year, Buckley said. “Our marathon season is usually heavy between end of February and May, it’s where we do over 100 expos, so we had already stocked up for marathon season, which got canceled. We were going to have no income for months.”

Last month, Rebecca Buckley added buttons to the special headbands she’s made for runners for the last 15 years so health care workers can hook their masks onto the buttons to give their ears a break.

Amazon suddenly stopped shipping her product, too, as a nonessential item. And she had a warehouse with thousands of headbands.

“I was worried we’d have to lay people off,” she said. “For a week I worried, then we did the buttons, and everyone is working, so it’s good.”

There have been a few logistics to navigate. After founding the company in Maine, she moved headquarters and a warehouse to Bloomfield, Connecticut, but kept her sewers, a mix of retired women and stay-at-home-moms, here.

“We’re packing the bands that we have and we’re driving them to Maine, sewing the buttons on and then shipping them out because all the stock is here,” Buckley said. “We’re making it work.”

The button headbands, which are either 3 or 4 inches wide in a variety of colors, sell for $9.99 each. For every one sold, she’s donating one to health care workers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, COVID-19 hot spots.

“I’m very, very lucky and very blessed to have fallen into this,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong — I think persistence and patience and putting everything into it before I had kids” built the company to where it is. “I think this is a completely new market that we can have for a long time.”

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