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Aviator Nation Leads the Retro Style Revival

Fashion in Flight
Aviator Nation Leads the Retro Style Revival
Interview by Hailey Bethke
Photography courtesy of Aviator Nation

We’re seeing vibrant colors, stripes, and lightning bolts everywhere. Aviator Nation is a wildly popular 1970s-inspired California lifestyle brand headed by soulful entrepreneur and vibrant creator Paige Mycoskie. Retro influences resurface in modern times to draw consumers to Mycoskie’s original designs, ranging from cozy sweatpants and sweatshirts to activewear designed for surfing and skiing. Beyond her wildly successful journey with Aviator Nation, making her one of the wealthiest self-made women in the United States (her current net worth is estimated at $380 million), Mycoskie is an individualist, outdoor enthusiast, and loving soul. We asked her to give us a look into her creative psyche, from business advice to honest questions about things she values, fears, and hopes for. This is Paige Mycoskie—the entrepreneur, innovator, explorer, and real, badass human—unfiltered.

VIE: Congratulations on your massive success and growth over the past eighteen years! As the company has grown, have you stayed hands-on or shifted your position within the brand? What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to scale their businesses?

Paige Mycoskie: Thank you! I am still extremely hands-on. The only difference now is I work mostly remotely because I like to travel, which is good for my inspiration. I live in a few different places but am primarily based in Austin, Texas. I used to work in the factory daily, but I’ve built a team I trust, so now I can work from wherever life takes me. When building new stores, I travel to each location, help paint the murals, and make creative decisions with the build-outs. When we are doing big lifestyle photo shoots, I am always on-site, so I travel to wherever we are doing those, as well. So yes, I am still very hands-on. I still design everything we make and approve every print and top-of-production sample for each garment. I am the CEO, creative director, and lead designer—and, of course, very involved in all financial decisions, employee recruiting, and operations.

I have an amazing team—most have been with me for over eight years and some over ten years—so everyone pretty much knows me and knows what I want. My team is my family, and we all enjoy working together. It makes it more fun, and I feel truly blessed to have this team. It’s definitely my biggest asset!

VIE: Where do you draw inspiration from when designing each piece of merchandise at Aviator Nation? How do you continually innovate and produce fresh designs that you love and are on brand?

PM: Designing the clothes is actually the easiest part for me because I simply make what I want to wear. Luckily, I have ideas all the time about what I want to wear, so it keeps me busy designing new styles year-round. A lot of times, I’m inspired by nature—specifically the colors I see there. I spend a lot of time outdoors in the mountains in Aspen, at the lake in Austin, and at the beach in California. I’m also continually inspired by vintage influences, whether it’s an old sports car, my vintage skateboard collection, or old album covers. I have a lot of vintage items, so inspiration is around me all the time.

The way we stay on brand is that it’s always something I would personally wear, and I have a really specific style. I always ask myself, “Would I wear this?” and if the answer is no, I don’t do it. My style is pretty random at times, so sometimes the designs I drop are a bit funky. I do what I’m feeling at that moment and try not to think too much about it, which keeps it real and authentic.

VIE: Why the name Aviator Nation?

PM: I grew up collecting aviator sunglasses after discovering the movie Top Gun. As a young girl, Top Gun was my favorite, and I had the movie poster on my wall throughout most of my life. I always had this theory that everyone looked sexier and more badass when wearing aviator sunglasses. The word “nation” comes from my desire to build a company that brings people together. The original tagline was “rad clothes for rad people,” and I always wanted the brand to bring people together. Now, with nineteen stores and having hosted hundreds of concerts and community events, I can confidently say the brand has brought great people together.

VIE: What’s one thing that scares you?

PM: I have this thing about fear: I think it’s the root of all evil. Even in my childhood bedroom, I had a poster that said “No Fear”! But obviously, we all have things that scare us, so I’m digging deep and trying to think of something right now, haha. I guess one thing that scares me is fear itself, so I try not to fall into it. I also hate snakes.

VIE: Reflecting on your journey, please share one significant thing you believe has contributed to your success.

PM: One key takeaway is always to remain positive, calm, and patient even when sh*t hits the fan. When you run your own company—specifically a fashion company with nearly seven hundred employees—sh*t hits the fan often, and you can’t let it get to you. I have learned to be positive and patient when times are hard and, most of all, to remain calm and collected when major struggles arise. I have to be tough no matter what is happening because it’s extremely important that my team believes in me, too. They will only believe in me if they think I can handle big challenges, and I can confidently say my team knows I can manage anything that comes our way. I believe success starts with a positive mindset, so I always try to have that. So far, we’ve pushed through multiple recessions and a total shutdown during COVID-19. I kept my team employed and told them every day it was all going to be OK, even on my darkest days. I keep my head up and do my best to work through whatever comes my way. That has played a big role in my success, specifically in the respect my team has for me.

VIE: What do you wish more people knew about attaining wealth and building their dream company? What has your honest and unfiltered journey looked like? Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell your younger self as you started the brand in 2006?

PM: I wish more people knew how truly hard it is. I think a lot of young people nowadays think being an entrepreneur and starting a company is easy. Sure, you can start something pretty easily, but making it stick is different. Running a business is extremely hard work, and you have to truly be dedicated to the journey because along with the ups come a lot of downs. I would tell young people they can do it, and they should definitely try—but be prepared for a lot of hard work and challenges. You have to be tough more than anything; if you can’t be tough, don’t waste your time.

My journey has never slowed down for a minute, but I enjoy that. I love challenges, constant change, and working hard. I’m doing something really hard, and fashion is one of the most competitive industries, but all of this suits me because I love the journey. If it were easy, I wouldn’t have fun.

As far as what I would have told my younger self, I would have just said hang in there and be tough. I may have said, “Don’t trust everyone,” because, in the early days, I definitely ran into some untrustworthy people, but it’s fine because I learned from those experiences, and now I know. But I would have told my younger self to let the hard times roll off you as quickly as possible. Don’t waste energy being worried if everyone who works for you is happy all the time, as well. I went through some times when I worried about my employees too much, and now I know that I can’t always make everyone happy. I have a great team, and I’ve had very few hiccups with staff, but when I was younger, I wasted too much energy worrying about people.

VIE: One of the things we admire most about you is how down-to-earth you are and how you have stayed true to your authentic self and style. What advice would you give our readers on avoiding comparison and trusting your gut even when it means doing something unconventional?

PM: Being authentic to yourself is everything. The minute you lose yourself or try to be someone you’re not (or a company you’re not) is the minute you lose what makes you unique and different—ultimately, your brand becomes somebody else’s. I truly believe authenticity is critical and one of the main reasons I’ve been able to last as long as I have. I do not succumb to trends. I always try to be original, and everything I design comes from within me and is not focused on what others are doing.

VIE: Please speak a little bit about your decision to retain complete ownership of your brand. Was that an easy decision, or did it come at the cost of faster scalability?

PM: I have turned down a lot of big money along the way. Sure, it was tempting sometimes, but I knew taking money from others meant losing control. I always knew I could do it best myself, so giving up control could mean the company would not do as well as it would with me running the show. This brand is my passion, and I mostly rely on my gut when making big decisions. If I had to call a board of people every time I had to make a big decision, I think we would have suffered. So no, I didn’t have a lot of money for many years while I chose to do it on my own, but now it’s all paying off because I’m successful. I still own 100 percent, which makes the company even more valuable. Also, I never wanted to scale too fast, as I’m sure investors would have wanted. I believe in slow, steady growth and building strong roots, which I’ve done over the last eighteen years.

VIE: What is your favorite collaboration, collection, or piece you have designed?

PM: My favorite thing I’ve designed so far is my latest release, the patch collection. I have been designing patches for the past eighteen years, and I put a huge assortment of them all onto one garment for the first time ever. It was an amazing challenge to bring it to life because I wanted every top to have a bottom with different patches from the top, and I wanted every color set to be different from the others. I also wanted a good assortment of garments, including hoodies, sweatpants, and even an outerwear jacket and backpack that would look great when worn together as a set. Every detail of every patch had to be perfect. I approved every thread color, every patch size, and the exact placement of each patch on each garment. It was a great challenge to bring it to life and very expensive to make because every patch was first created individually and then hand-sewn onto the garments one by one with precise placement. So, with that said, it was by far the most challenging of all the collections and also my favorite to date. Did I mention I love a challenge?

VIE: What impact do you hope Aviator Nation will have on the world? If you could leave customers with one key message, what would it be?

PM: I think Aviator Nation will impact the world in many ways. One of the biggest is that people will see a major brand manufacturing their clothing in America. I hope it will inspire other companies to do so in the future. I feel strongly about producing my products in the US and creating jobs for our citizens. Yes, it makes clothes more expensive because of the extremely high cost of running a business in America, but the point is it is possible and very rewarding. I also believe it leads to better quality, which ultimately means fewer garments going into landfills. So many people shop for fast fashion and cheap products made overseas; I get it because people are on a budget, but the bigger picture is owning fewer garments of higher quality and supporting American jobs.

If I could leave my customers with one key message, I would say thank you for supporting us because you are supporting a movement toward making garments in America and sustainable, higher-quality fashion. A huge part of the price you pay goes directly to the labor force, and they are extremely appreciative of their jobs in our factory and our stores around the country.

VIE: What’s next for you? What are you manifesting for Aviator Nation or personally in the coming year?

PM: I plan to spend a lot of time this year on design and development. I want to continue releasing new products monthly as we did last year to keep our fans excited about something new. I also want to dive into developing other categories like sneakers, which are a big passion of mine. I love designing, and this year, I’m going to challenge myself to really push out some epic new gear.

Another thing I’m working on is my book. I love to write, and I think I finally have enough meat for a story worth reading. It will be my story of building my brand but also a story of passion and grit. There are a lot of fun details and challenges that people have never heard, and I’m excited to share the whole story with the world.

Personally, I think it’s finally time for me to start building a family (other than my two furry boys). My girlfriend and I have an amazing relationship, and we are excited to start moving into the next chapter.

VIE: Thank you, Paige!

Head to AviatorNation.com to shop now, or visit them on Instagram @aviatornation.

RAPID-FIRE QUESTIONS WITH PAIGE MYCOSKIE

Dream photoshoot location: Bali! I love Bali, and I’m sure someday I’ll do a shoot there. It’s far away, so logistics are a challenge, but I love Ubud and the jungle vibes. The energy there is next-level, as well!

If you weren’t running Aviator Nation, you would be: A professional snowboarder! It’s my other passion next to Aviator Nation and has always come naturally to me. I think if I had put the same time and energy into snowboarding that I put into my company, I’d be a pro for sure.

Favorite thing about Texas: The lake life, no doubt! Surfing and e-foiling on Lake Austin, specifically.

The best book you’ve read recently: Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty

An influential person who helped shape your path: My older brother Blake! I was so lucky we both started our companies at the same time in 2006, so I had someone I looked up to greatly that I could call up and run things by—which I definitely did. Blake is the one who told me I should open my store on Abbot Kinney when I told him I was looking for office space in Venice, California. Blake said, “You should just open a store on Abbot Kinney and run your office out the back, then you get two for the price of one.” Opening my first store in Venice was a huge decision and a pivotal moment in my success. Thanks, Blaker!

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