Alumni Issue 2020: Rob Launer hustles harder

Thursday, October 1st, 2020 at 4:13 PM
Alumni Issue 2020: Rob Launer hustles harder by Sam Bohen
Contributed Photo

For many great entrepreneurs, what leads to their creation is that they see something missing. Perhaps they see a way to improve on a design, or they make things go faster and work more efficiently. Some invent products we didn’t know we needed, but cannot live without. 

For Rob Launer, he was simply looking for a headband.

“I really wanted to buy a headband, and I couldn’t find anything,” said the Edinboro alumnus. “And I thought to myself, I know how to do design work. So, I bought some printing equipment and started playing around with it.”

And thus, BakerBands was born.

From a garage to 'NFL Countdown'

Like Apple or Microsoft, Cleveland-based BakerBands is the product of a dreamer in a garage. A dream that, as Launer would say on a Zoom call, has taken off. 

So, how did Launer get here? How is it that a headband company has grown so rapidly that it landed him a profile in the Spectator’s illustrious Alumni Issue? Well, let’s back it up a few years, shall we?

Originally from Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, Launer graduated from Edinboro with a degree in speech communications in 2001. Then, in 2009, he graduated with his master’s in counseling.

What? Come again? He has no background in design whatsoever?

“I was actually working as a school therapist. I always knew I was an artist, but I didn’t really know how to do it,” said Launer. “I just knew if I kept pushing, if I refused to quit, I could make this work. [I thought] I’ll keep pushing this further and further and see how far I can take it.”

Launer paused a moment before starting in on the unlikely night that would show his brand across the country. 

“Remember the Thursday night game two years ago when the Browns snapped their 25-game losing streak?”

Browns fans do, indeed, recall that game.

The Browns beat the Jets on national television. And infamously during that game, a Browns fan caught a possum in the stands. That possum would end up being one of the best things that ever happened to Launer. Not only did his Browns win, but many people in the crowd that night were spotted wearing his headbands.

“ESPN wanted to run a story on the fan who caught the possum, and they contacted me through Facebook when they noticed all the headbands in the filmSo, I quickly made some possum-based headbands and went down to where they were filming the segment," Launer said with enthusiasm. As he explains, ESPN decided to instead focus on BakerBands, running the story on Sunday NFL Countdown. “Next thing I know, vendors throughout Cleveland want to sell the headbands in their stores. Then we were getting requests for different teams outside of Cleveland.” 

After that, rapper Benny the Butcher got in contact with LaunerLauner designed a headband for him to wear while performing at the NBA All-Star game. Since then, Benny has frequently been seen in music videos wearing BakerBands 

Launer is upbeat and boisterous while recounting how he went from his garage to a national brand. Thoughfrom talking with him for one afternoon, it’s easy to see this isn’t an act. This is who Launer is. Hearing him talk about the intricacies of his product, his motivation and positivity shine through. He always hustles harder. It is why he’s found success and likely will continue to do so. And generally speaking, you can tell what kind of a person someone is in how they conduct themselves after success.

Giving back

“I’ve always wanted to be able to give back,” Launer says. “That’s why I got my master’s in counseling. My mom works in a domestic violence shelter, and she instilled that same attitude in me from a young age. I was a school therapist for 12 years, but one of the things my time at Edinboro taught me was that there are a lot of different ways to help.” 

Since BakerBands has taken off, Launer has been able to accomplish this charitable mission in many different ways. He sends groups of underprivileged children to a local amusement park, he hosts 5Ks to raise money to build baseball fields for children with disabilities, he works with the Special Olympics, and a portion of all of sales goes to the Cleveland Animal Protection League.  

“We have a line for dogs called BarkerBands that I donate to the CAPL. I’m really big on doing what I can for the animals,” he said.  

This makes sense once you see the BakerBands logo. “That’s my cat, Baker. He goes everywhere with me, he’s always around,” Launer said with a laugh. “I actually found him in Erie. And it’s so funny to me that all of these rappers and athletes are wearing headbands with my cat on them.” 

Since that fateful Thursday night game, Baker the cat can be seen on the heads of Dalvin Cook, Draymond Green, Jose Ramirez, Devin Singletary, Russell Gage and members of hip-hop focused Griselda Records. 

Now that BakerBands has a greater demand than his garage can handleLauner has moved his operation to an old factory in downtown Cleveland.

“It’s a great facility; they employ people that have mental disabilities and people that are transitioning back into society from prison,” said Launer. “I rent a space there. So, I do all the designs, but they do all the printing.” Launer never misses a chance to make a difference in untraditional ways. 

There is that line in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” that has become cheesy because it inevitably appears in every high school yearbook as someone’s senior quote. “Life moves pretty fast; if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Going from school counselor to fashion designer is a huge leap, does Rob Launer take a moment to stop and look around? 

“Every moment is an ‘oh sh*t’ moment. It’s all been so cool, and I don’t take any of it for granted,” he said enthusiastically. “I just sold my 65,000th headband.” 

The next steps

That was only the first act of BakerBands 

“I’ve been working on a rebranding of sorts,” Launer revealed, with an air of mystery. “For the past three months, I avoided social media. We’ve gone completely dark for a little bit, but we launch our new campaign Oct. 2.”  

The new campaign will include seven new collections, including styles for UFC fighters, professional fishermen and a line that was designed with Cleen Rock One, a tattoo artist who appeared on the show “Ink Masters.”  

All of Launer’s headbands are reversable. Whether they’re from the old collections or the new one, each and everyone says “HUSTLE HARDER” on the inside. It is with that in mind that he gives a final piece of advice to young entrepreneurs.  

“Don’t stop. You don’t lose unless you stop. Always keep going and always hustle harder. Nobody told me a custom headband company was a good idea; nobody could understand my vision. But if you don’t believe yourself, you’re going to lose. I believed in BakerBands and I manifested it, and here we are.”  

Sam Bohen is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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