Welcome to Talking Top 10, a recurring series in which we feature the founders, CEOs, creators, and leaders who are shaking up their industries. Ahead, read our Q&A with Paige Mycoskie, and keep scrolling to shop her Top 10 must-haves.
Paige Mycoskie is the founder and creative visionary behind the 1970’s inspired California lifestyle brand, Aviator Nation. Aviator Nation was born in Paige’s garage in Venice Beach, 2006, and has since grown into a global lifestyle brand with 13 destination retail locations. Paige’s passion for 1970’s fashion and the music that defined that time period inspired her to create her own clothing stitched by hand. While working at a surf shop in Southern California, she purchased a sewing machine and spent nights after work teaching herself to sew, determined to create garments with the same look and feel of the vintage pieces she had been collecting for years.
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Tell us about the beginning of Aviator Nation. What led you to start your own fashion brand?
I started making clothes for myself because what I wanted to wear did not exist. I used to shop in thrift stores and I was always drawn to clothing from the 1970’s but I found myself constantly frustrated because I am extremely picky when it comes to softness, fit and colors, and I was constantly wanting to change the vintage items I would find. Since I was a young girl I’ve always felt like I could make anything and that creating anything was possible. My mentality told me to start learning how to make my own clothes since the clothes I wanted to wear did not exist. I bought a sewing machine and taught myself to make patterns and dye fabrics. I started making clothes for myself and wearing them around my neighborhood and to work. At the time I was living in Venice California and working in a surf shop. I was an assistant buyer at the surf shop and I would go to trade shows wear the clothes I made for myself and everyone wanted to buy what I was wearing. People stopped me constantly at work and all over Venice (where I was living) and asked me what brand I was wearing. I realized pretty fast that there was a demand for what I was making. I could not escape the attention. I could not go anywhere without people asking me what I was wearing, so I decided to start making clothes and selling them. (Hence the story I put in the neck label of my garments). I first sold Aviator Nation at the Abbot Kinney street fair and next I sold to a local store called Fred Segal in Santa Monica. In the early years I sewed every garment by hand myself.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in building the brand into the successful one that it is today? How did you overcome them?
This business is super challenging. Not only is fashion extremely competitive but making garments in America is also very hard and very expensive. I would say designing a new collection every three months while keeping the customers excited and coming back for more is a huge challenge I face. I am on some type of deadline every day of my life and for some reason I enjoy that challenge. I am so grateful that I continue to be inspired and that I am able to come up with new design ideas that people continue to buy. I think it really helps that this brand is 100% my personal passion. I love every garment I design and I put my whole heart into every piece because I want to wear it myself and I’m picky as hell. I am driven to make it awesome not just for my customers but also for myself. I am extremely competitive and i’m always trying to make things better. Ultimately that drive pushes me hard year after year to do it better and better and I think my customer sees that. I overcame all of the above by simply working hard and staying focused on the product. I never spent money on marketing or advertising, I put all of my energy into the product in the beginning and I still do that now. I believe the product is king and the rest will follow if the product is good enough.
What does a day-in-the-work-life of Paige Mycoskie look like?
I start each day with a workout, green juice, and a butter coffee. Every day/week/month I work from a different location. I always have to be building something or making something better. For the past three years I’ve been building stores literally in a different city every few months. Right now I am working from my latest project “Dreamland” which is an expansion connected to our Malibu store. One or two days each week I work from our factory/headquarters in LA when I’m doing fittings or production meetings. All day everyday I’m pretty much balancing a creative flow and my inbox. I am constantly designing but I also have to keep an eye on our inventory levels, production, operations, fulfillment and budget. I have my hands in everything still but I do have an incredible staff that supports me. I communicate with about 12 staff members non-stop all day long to keep the ship sailing. I work from about 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. then I eat a big bowl of pasta and watch the news.
What inspires your design process?
I am inspired by vintage shopping. I hit flea markets every Sunday and I’m constantly scanning craigslist for antiques, old surfboards, and other random stuff. I have an obsession with vintage furniture, classic sports cars. and surfboards from the 1970s. All of these things inspire me.
If you could only recommend buying one Aviator Nation product, what would it be and why?
Wow that’s a hard one. I have to say the charcoal five-stripe hoodie. It’s an all day, all night all season staple and it no question looks great on everyone. One problem though is that you can’t just get the hoodie you have to get the matching pant too. Aviator Nation is all about rocking the set.
What’s the best thing about your job?
No question the competitive nature of the industry is the best thing about my job. I am constantly challenged every single day and I love a challenge. Everything about my work is awesome but if I had to choose one thing I would say the fact that my work is constantly changing, evolving and growing keeps me stoked. I feed on change and this industry pushes every day. Every season I need to design something new that people want to buy and those seasons come fast. I am constantly trying to make things better whether it be our online fulfillment, our website, or the quality of our fabrics. If we are not constantly getting better then we will not survive and I know that. I love the challenge and competitive nature of this industry and I have the confidence to keep doing it because I know I’m right where I’m meant to be.
What would we find you doing on your typical day off?
Right now I am really into mountain biking so at the moment you would find me on a trail going hard on my bike. If I’m on a longer trip I’m usually spending time with my family snowboarding, surfing, or scuba diving. I try to take a long trip once a year typically after we wrap up the holidays.
How do you decompress each day?
I love a cold plunge and a good steam room. If I don’t have a cold plunge a dip in the ocean, river, lake, or hot tub will do. I’m a pisces and I’m most relaxed when I’m in water so I try to find water at the end of my day. Also, right before bed almost every night I have a solid session with my Theragun.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
Make sure you are starting something you are totally obsessed with. If you run your own business that business will become your life and if you are not living your passion then none of it will matter in the end. I see a lot of entrepreneurs trying to start things simply because they think there is demand or because they want to make a lot of money. Those motivations and the life they bring is a huge mistake. I believe if you don’t absolutely love the product your trying to make/sell/create then you will never have the edge. Without the edge you just can’t survive because you can’t compete with the person that does have the edge.
What’s next for Aviator Nation?
In fashion it’s truly all about the product. If you can’t evolve the product while staying true to your brand you can’t survive. So what is next for Aviator Nation will always be about the product. With that said I am dedicated to my product and I will continue to evolve it. Our new performance outerwear and swim are pretty insane so watch out for that dropping soon. My personal goal is to drop something new and awesome every month so I’m constantly designing these days. The quality of Aviator Nation will continue to get better, I will continue to produce in America and provide jobs to Americans and I will work hard to stay true to my brand and support the communities my stores are in always. You will see Aviator Nation continue to provide stages for artists so that they can share their art because I never want to see a great artist with no stage. I will continue to host shows and spread love through musical experiences at all of our stores and spaces. Supporting music and building community thru the brand is an important part of what we are doing. Aviator Nation Dreamland (my current expansion happening in Malibu right now) is going to be an amazing new space for community and live music. I look forward to sharing Dreamland with the world as soon as this pandemic is behind us.