GRAND RAPIDS — Frontline workers responding to COVID-19, along with many others who are returning to their jobs, are wearing masks all day long. Some are experiencing irritation, especially around their ears.

Katarina Samardzija, a 2019 graduate of Grand Valley State University and founder of Locker Lifestyle, took notice. Locker Lifestyle produces athletic clothing with storage pouches.

“I had all of these athletic headbands in stock that have been tested for comfort and fit by marathon runners,” said Samardzija. “I recruited my grandmother, who is a seamstress, to help sew buttons on the headbands. The buttons allow you to attach a surgical mask to relieve irritation behind the ears.”

The Pocket Headband for women and men has non-slip gel dots and a pocket in back, secured by Velcro®, to carry money, keys or even a spare mask. In April, Samardzija made a demonstration video, which went viral. She and her work crew, consisting of her mother and grandmother, have shipped about 600 Headband Aids all over the country.

Samardzija earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Grand Valley with a double major in marketing and entrepreneurship. She was also a member of the GVSU Women’s Tennis team. She was headed to tennis practice in 2016, when she got the idea for Locker Lifestyle.

“I got tired of carrying all of my belongings to the gym. The first product I made, which is our best seller, is the Wrist Wallet. It holds items like an ID, money, keys, lip balm. My friends started knocking on my door wanting one,” she said.

Samardzija connected with Grand Valley’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and began competing for startup funds. She has participated in about 14 competitions to date to help fund patents and to manufacture products.

Runners World magazine named Locker Lifestyle products the top gear to have in 2020; in 2019, Samardzija was named one of the Newsmakers of the Year by the Grand Rapids Business Journal; and in 2018, she was the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Bronze Prize Winner.

Samardzija said her education and connections at Grand Valley have proven invaluable.

“The support from the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation has been a continual resource,” she said. “I connect with Shorouq Almallah and Matthew Larson from CEI on a monthly basis to stay in touch and discuss growth.” 

Find out more about her products at