Shane Bauer's positive attitude catching on

Those who know Laughingstock Design's Shane Bauer will make sure to let you know that you're dealing with a genuinely nice guy whose one aim is to pay it forward.

Shane Bauer at Laughingstock Designs
Shane Bauer is the owner of Laughingstock Designs. (Clint Austin /

Those who know Laughingstock Design's Shane Bauer will make sure to let you know that you're dealing with a genuinely nice guy whose one aim is to pay it forward.

"He gets a charge out of helping people," said Kim Luedtke, who nominated Bauer for the "20 Under 40" honor. "I hope he grows his business to an entire empire because that will mean he can help even more people."

Bauer is the proprietor behind the Happy Space store in the Fitger's complex, which specializes in two distinct lines of apparel: PositiveWear and Listen to Nature (a sustainable nod to Mother Earth).

PositiveWear, as its name implies, is the result of the obnoxiously negative T-shirts polluting the market.

"A lot of them focus on how lazy the people wearing them are, or how 'stupid' they or others are," Bauer said. "It was a black shirt simply saying 'Bite Me' that really did it for me. I saw it at a major department store and still don't understand it.


"That was the tipping point where I got into apparel design."

Before he opened his retail store at Fitger's, Bauer's primary creative outlet was his Laughingstock Design website and its signature greeting cards. What made them special? They were personalized with customers' pictures.

It all started back in 2000 when Bauer wanted to spice up Christmas for his family.

"We just wanted to make people laugh and have fun with it," he said. "As a graphic designer, I had all the resources and it actually saved us money back then. The reactions you get from those receiving them made it well worth the time involved and it wasn't long before requests started coming in to do the same style cards for others."

It would be a couple years before Bauer realized the commercial prospects of custom greeting cards.

"Our Christmas cards from the previous years kept reappearing; friends and family were hanging on to them and displaying them every year," he said. "I started to see the potential of a greeting card that never gets thrown away."

While Bauer made a name for himself with those uplifting greeting cards, it wouldn't last.

"The custom greeting cards went away fast when the economy tanked," he admitted. "Christmas 2007 was the last 'crazy card season' for us, so we started thinking about what comes next after that."


But Bauer had ideas -- and apparently this is something he's becoming known for.

"Shane is an amazingly creative and funny guy," Luedtke wrote. "He has his own special way of looking at the world. He is a force to be reckoned with when he gets an idea in his head that he wants to see manifest in the world."

While some ideas didn't pan out for Bauer (like a winter comedy festival), others did, like Happy Space PositiveWear.

"The time was right for an attitude change in our community, in our country and probably many other places as well," the entrepreneur said. "We get people from all walks of life in that little store from all over the country and sometimes other countries -- and we've only been open four months."

Bauer said one major component of the PositiveWear line is squashing stereotypes. His company manufactured the "Human Just Like You" campaign for Duluth-Superior Pride. And those "Free the Hikers" shirts seen on "The Today Show"? Those were the result of a collaboration between Bauer and Nate Lindstrom, a local man who is married to the sister of one of the detained hikers -- who also happens to be named Shane Bauer.

"I think one of the main reasons we've done well up to this point," Laughingstock's Shane Bauer surmised, "is because we don't know what's next and we anxiously subscribe to that. That's the adventure part that makes it fun and keeps the revolving door of ideas turning. I'm sure there are big things in store, though, and when we get to them, we'll make sure they have a positive impact on the greatest number of people possible."

And how, exactly, does Bauer gauge his company's success?

"Similar to the greeting cards, the reactions we have received from our customers is the best part," he said. "We've had people thank us with tears more than once. That's rewarding."

What To Read Next
Get Local