By: MeiMei Fox // Forbes
Today, 1970s-inspired fashion brand Aviator Nation opens its eleventh store, this one on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Founder and CEO Paige Mycoskie personally leads her all-female team in building out and hand-painting murals at all store locations to create a unique vintage atmosphere, and she herself picks out each of the 100 classic records decorating the walls. Aside from being retro environments in which to shop for clothes, Aviator Nation stores serve as a gathering place for the local community, hosting yoga classes and music concerts, offering up pool, ping pong, 80s arcade games, and other activities – all free of charge.
“My locations are very personal to me,” says Mycoskie. “I only open stores in places where I love spending time, places I care greatly about, because the stores are my way of giving back to communities. I also open stores in places where I want to spend time because I know the stores are going to require my personal attention.”
Prior to opening a new store, Mycoskie will literally spend months studying the local community in order to design a shop that generates an emotional connection with the people who live there. She says, “I don’t think a lot of designers paint their own stores. I do this because it makes us different. I am super hands-on because I want to deliver authenticity to my consumers. A huge goal with Aviator Nation stores is not only to give people a cool shopping experience, but also to bring people in the community together.”
Mycoskie started Aviator Nation when she was 26 years old. Aside from being the founder and CEO, she also serves as the fashion designer and creative director for the company. Thirteen years since its founding, she herself still designs all the clothes, which are handmade in America. “I don’t sleep much,” she says with a smile.
It was at age 26 that Mycoskie, who grew up with a grandmother who loved to sew and taught her to make own clothing, bought herself a sewing machine. She wanted clothes that didn’t exist. Having always felt a connection to the vintage attire of the 70s, she went out in search of similar styles but couldn’t find any. So, she decided to make her own – and quickly became obsessed.
“As soon as I started sewing, I realized how much I loved it and how much fun I was having,” Mycoskie says. “I would stay up all night until the sun came up making clothes those first couple of months. It was such an odd thing to discover this passion at the age of 26! I loved hanging out with my grandma in her sewing room as a kid, but back then I didn’t realize I could make a living out of it.”
This passion became her life’s purpose when Mycoskie opened the first Aviator Nation retail store on Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, California in 2009. It was her home, her neighborhood, and she had a long line of friends waiting outside for her to unlock the doors on opening night. She played The Doors because Jim Morrison created much of his music in Venice Beach, and she had a friend’s band playing on the back patio. “That night, I witnessed the power Aviator Nation had to bring people together. I realized my life’s purpose was not only to make incredibly high quality, comfortable clothes by hand in America, but also to bring people together,” she says.
Mycoskie’s career has deep value and meaning to her. She loves the team she has built and the locations where she has opened stores. She also still enjoys designing and creating new clothes. And she values making those clothes in America. Her factory employs nearly 200 people in a 55,000-square foot facility. The workers are well-paid and have comfortable working conditions. “This is something rare to find in the garment industry,” Mycoskie says. “I’ve seen first-hand how bad factory conditions can be, even in LA. That’s why I took matters into my own hands and built my own factory operation. I am proud of that.”
Retail is a fast-moving industry. Designers must launch four collections a year to stay alive. Mycoskie hand draws the designs for thousands of new SKUs each year, then quality tests the patterns and conducts fit tests and dye tests. She ends up rejecting a lot more than she approves in order to end up with the final 800 items that go into production each year. Then she ensures all products are photographed and marketed in a very specific way. This is extremely challenging and time-consuming work to engage in while also running the ongoing retail business.
However, Mycoskie feels it is all worthwhile. “If I can inspire other people to make clothes in America, to pursue a career in fashion, to follow their passion, or even to start a business, then I feel like I’m doing something good for the world,” she says.
“If you are not totally obsessed with what you are doing, then move on,” Mycoskie advises young people looking to tap into their life purpose at work. “If you are not excited to go to work every day, then stop going. If you are not selling a product that you love, then stop selling. I see people taking jobs because the pay is really good but they are not in love with the company or the job itself. That is a mistake. Money will never replace truly loving your day-to-day life. We should not just live for the weekends. We should live for every day and we should love our work.”