Founder of Aviator Nation tells how she came up with velvet swimsuits and the 'Top Gun' swagger
By Ingrid Schmidt
May 25, 2017 | 8:00 AM
With her beachy blond hair, sunny personality and sporty vibe, Paige Mycoskie could be a poster girl for the Golden State. The longtime Venice resident universally refers to people as “dude” and sips natural Runa energy drinks rather than coffee.
“It looks like I’m headed for the islands, right?” she asked, gesturing at her self-designed Hawaiian floral-print Aviator Nation hoodie and sweatpants, paired with a felt Goorin Bros. fedora and checkered Vans slip-ons.
Fans of Aviator Nation read like a who’s who of Hollywood: Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Jay Z, Robert Downey Jr., Matthew McConaughey, Jake Gyllenhaal, Selena Gomez, Zac Efron and Chris Martin, who selected a surfboard for his birthday in March.
The sixth Aviator Nation store (and first non-California location) will open in Aspen, Colo., next month, and Mycoskie hopes to venture into Hawaii and Texas next.
The 37-year-old entrepreneur, who hails from Texas, also happens to be the younger sister of Blake Mycoskie, founder of the Toms shoes and accessories brand; the siblings’ flagship stores are just blocks apart on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice.
We sat down with the founder of Aviator Nation last month to talk about the company’s recent extension from ’70s-inspired hoodies and sweatpants into activewear, outerwear, swimwear and surfboards. A Honda Rebel motorcycle, customized by Mycoskie, will be available for order through Aviator Nation stores and rebel.honda.com.
Is everything handmade in L.A.?
Yes, our factory is in South L.A., and we have about 38 employees. I really believe it makes the quality so much better because I’m able to get samples delivered to me every day for fine-tuning. The tags are all hand-stitched. The fabric strips are cut by hand, and the single-needle stitch work is hand-done. Pieces are priced according to how long they take to make, and some hoodies take hours. We pay hourly so the process isn’t rushed. You can see that the pieces aren’t perfect, which gives them character and a handmade feel. … The fabric is also a huge part of what we do. In the beginning, I bought vintage sweats and T-shirts in large sizes and cut them up to make new garments. Then in 2007, I found the guy who still makes my fabric today.
So mid-May marked the debut of swimwear. Was that to build on the brand’s surf vibe?
I have been trying to develop a swim line for seven or eight years. When I had the idea to use velvet, I thought, “This is it,” because velvet looks retro and has texture and a backstage music lounge kind of vibe. The four bikini tops and bottoms come in six colors with coordinating stripes to mix and match. There is also a one-piece swimsuit and a hoodie cover-up. Hawaiian floral prints tie back to new board shorts, the men’s swim trunks and some wetsuits in development.
When did you design the first Aviator Nation surfboard?
I’ve collected vintage surfboards and had drawings of designs I wanted to do for a very long time, but they just came to fruition about a year ago. I found Bob Haakenson [in Goleta], who did colored graphic designs on surfboards in the ’70s. So he airbrushes the detailing after the boards are hand-shaped by Bruce Fowler in Santa Barbara. They’re all signed and numbered.
Why did you decide to branch into activewear and jackets?
While living in Aspen to work on that store, I realized the mountains are as much a part of me as the ocean. I love to snowboard as much as I love to surf. The unisex puffer jacket we rolled out at the X Games last January is durable for performance but also super-comfortable. To make all the stripes line up on the quilting, each panel has to be cut and stitched by hand. We’re also working on lighter-weight jackets and snowboard suits. I personally wear leggings all the time and I wanted to wear my own leggings. So I tested a couple [of] styles in December, and they sold out in a few days. We have many more styles [long and cropped] coming in June, along with sports bra tops, that translate our [signature] prints to the active world.
Were you and Blake both into fashion while growing up?
It’s wild that we both ended up in the fashion world because we had no formal training. My [paternal] grandmother was a seamstress, and I would hang out with her all the time and sew. But it’s very odd that Blake and I both started our companies in 2006. He got the idea for Toms and his shoes while on a backpacking trip in Argentina and, while he was away, I bought my first sewing machine and started making clothes.
Where did the name Aviator Nation come from?
“Top Gun” was my favorite movie, and the film poster is still in my office. I was looking around my bedroom, trying to think of a company name. And that film’s style is all about the aviator sunglasses, and I had collected tons of aviators, probably close to 100 pairs now. When someone puts on aviators, they instantly have this awesome timeless style that I wanted for my brand.
You’ve developed merchandise for music festivals but never Coachella. Why not?
I'm not a huge fan. I was contacted this year and asked to pay some girls to wear Aviator Nation at Coachella, and I said, “No, we don’t do that.” It’s just not my thing. Of all the words I would like to be known for, “authentic” is the one.