When Paige Mycoskie launched 15-year-old fashion brand Aviator Nation, she was looking to solve her own pain point.
“I was most excited to wear vintage clothing — stuff that was made in the ’70s and early ’80s. And so I found myself looking for clothes at flea markets and thrift stores. But it’s not easy to find good T-shirts from the ’70s,” she said on the latest Glossy Podcast. “I’d spend a whole day looking for one T-shirt. Then it dawned on me: ‘Why don’t I learn how to make this?’ So I started sewing clothes for myself and I taught myself how to screenprint within a couple of weeks.”
That led to a buyer from Fred Segal placing a hefty order, solely based on the shirt that was on Mycoskie’s back. And the brand took off from there.
In the last year, with staying home being the norm, the level of comfort that comes with wearing a vintage-inspired T-shirt has been in demand. Brands have been adjusting their product offerings accordingly, which has meant new competition for Aviator Nation.
But Mycoskie isn’t concerned: “Now that athleisure is such a big deal, people are [OK with wearing] a tracksuit or a sweatsuit pretty much anywhere they go,” she said. “It obviously works to my benefit — but it’s definitely what we’ve been doing since day one.
The L.A.-based company now has 13 brand stores, and 90% of its sales are direct-to-consumer. Mycoskie said more stores are on the way.
“When my friends ask me about business, one of the things I always say is to just go for it,” she said. “Don’t waste too much time on the details; just put it out there.”
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Choosing where to set up shop
“I get to be super selfish, because I get to think about, ‘OK, I created the clothes for myself in the beginning, and I definitely am still my customer. So where would I want to be? Where would I shop? Where would I want to travel?’ And so far, I’ve opened stores in my favorite places in the world, and it’s really worked. I kind of took a chance opening a store in Aspen, Colorado, but that’s — hands down — my favorite mountain town. A lot of people told me it was super seasonal, super-expensive real estate — but it’s honestly one of our top-performing stores. So, I really have gone with my gut on places that I personally love. It happens to be that I love places that are super rad places. They’re just a perfect fit because there’s so much going on. I like places that have visitors, but also have a strong local community. I think it’s important to not put all your eggs in the tourist basket — to really have local people that are shopping for their birthday presents and their Mother’s Day and their Father’s Day. And it’s also important to support the community, which is a whole other thing I’m passionate about… And when I think about other stores that I may open, it’s the same thing: ‘What other places do I really love? Where do I want to hang out?’…Opening more stores is definitely in the plans.”
‘In survival mode’
“The governor of California [announced] the shelter in place [order] for all of California on a Thursday, and he said that everything had to be shut down by the end of day Friday… So I did a flash sale on our website for 24 hours, which would allow me enough time to pack the orders before we had to really shut down. And I announced that every dollar would go directly to the employees to keep them paid through the shutdown. And we ended up having our biggest [sales] day of all time, by far. We did $1.5 million online in 24 hours. And that money literally paid for over 200 employees for a few months, which is what we needed and for about [how long] we were shut down. So it was amazing. I was immediately relieved, because I had money now in the bank to pay the people, even though they weren’t going to be working. Leading up to the sale, because I had five or six hours, I stayed up literally all night merchandising the website, making sure everything was perfect, checking our inventory, putting the stuff we had a lot of at the top — I pretty much redesigned the website in six hours to be this powerhouse machine. And of course, I’m thinking to myself afterward, ‘Why am I just now doing this? I just made our website so much better in hours, because I’m in survival mode.’ But it worked. We just killed it. I took care of the employees, but I also learned a lot. It was incredible just seeing my team work together. Filling the orders was a giant undertaking; it was a lot of orders, and it had to happen fast… Everyone in the entire company was packing orders.”
The pandemic’s impact on the business
“Everything really changed, because I realized what was possible with the website. That was a big thing for me. Now, even today, I spend most of my time focused on the website. Everything is really important in the company, every element — but the website is really our lifeline to everybody. And so [I’m focused on] making sure that that really functions super-well and is always updated and constantly putting out new products, and [that we’re] keeping people engaged on the website and through social media — I realized the power of digital and how many people you can reach in a short period of time. I also realized how loyal our followers are. And I think that that just gave me this confidence, which now I’m really putting into my designs. I’m starting to design things that are a little bit more crazy and fun… Ultimately, I think [our customers] wanted to take care of my employees [during the pandemic]. I got a lot of messages from random customers that were like, ‘Look, if there’s anything I can do to help you… I’ll do PR for free, I’ll do whatever. We just don’t want anything to happen to you guys. We love you.’ It was cool to see all that support, which makes me just feel even freer to just do what I want and not be in this hole of, like, the finances and trying to make sure everything’s good. It’s just kind of like: ‘We’ve got this. We have customers that love us. Let’s just have fun with this.’ That’s how I’ve gone into the last year. And so far, so good.’