As we transition from the Summer to thinking about the Fall, we love when there's apparel in our closets that's truly seasonless and easy to move around, travel and do an array of activities in. At Athleisure Mag, we became major fans of Aviator Nation and started incorporating it into our celeb shoots last fall. In addition, our team has defintiely rocked these pieces when we've been on set, hitting a day of activities and more.
We took some time to sit down with Page Mycoskie, the brand's founder and designer who launched the brand back in 2006 with a focus on that retro vintage vibe and super soft fabrication. We remember her and her brother Blake Mycoskie (founder of TOMS Shoes) when they competed together on CBS' The Amazing Race season 2.
We wanted to find out how this brand was created, how being an athlete has tied into the ethos of the brand, how she approaches bringing on new designs and styles into the line as well as how she approaches finding and opening her stores at various locations. Along the way, we learned how integral music and specifically music festivals, as well as aviators, play into the brand and how manifesting her passions and interests continue to fuel the direction of this lifestyle brand.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Can you tell us about your background as you’re an artist, an entrepreneur, an athlete – how did this all come together in terms of your background and bringing you to the creation of Aviator Nation?
PAIGE MYCOSKIE: It’s kind of funny because ever since I was a young girl, I really had this mentality that I could do anything that I wanted to do. I really think that that came from hanging with my grandmother a lot. When I was little, I used to spend time with her during the day and she was super creative and super artistic. She would be like, “hey what do you want to learn today?” She was all about teaching me new things and I wanted to do creative things. It’s kind of interesting and I’d be like, I’d like to know about pottery and we’d spend the day learning how to do pottery and a lot of times, it was creative stuff. She was super artistic and she made her own clothes. So hanging out with her, I became very hands on and it’s super interesting now because a lot of what I do is very hands on. I think that that’s something that makes me very different from other people who start companies. I like to be super involved in all of the details at Aviator Nation.
It’s also funny to look back at the entrepreneurial thing. When I was little, I was constantly trying to sell things. Being an entrepreneur extends from that and I love being able to create things from scratch. I just loved the whole interaction of making something, selling something, earning money and then going to shop. Then being an athlete, that was an important part of this too. Now, I’m in a super competitive industry, the fashion world and being an athlete – ever since I was a young girl, I love doing sports.
Team sports was an important thing for me because the team I am building and the culture with the company is directly from when I was a child and on team sports with other people a lot. I think that being super competitive has always been inside of me and l like to compete because I like to win. Being an athlete and learning – the more you practice the better you will be and when you continue with that, you’ll be the best. I’m all about constantly making the best product and every time we do a production run, I’m all about testing the fabrics and new methods. It’s not just about putting out clothes every few months like new designs. It’s about continuing to make the product better. I think it helps that I wear the products because it’s all I wear. I’ll be like, “this is actually a little bit tighter than what I want it to be." Or I'd like to make this fabric a little lighter weight during this time of the year. Being an athlete, learning that the more you practice and the more you work with your team, the better that that team can be.
AM: What was that moment when you realized that you wanted to create this brand and what was the thought process behind the name, Aviator Nation? Your brand is really unique from your 5 stripes, to other designs, its gender fluidity and we love that you can literally look at your Instagram and see you truly building your company and the brand heritage that you present as well as continuity.
PM: It all kind of started with a personal obsession with clothes that are super comfortable and had this colorful look to them. I was living in California at the time and I had a job in a surf shop and I was doing photography. I didn’t go to school for fashion or for business. I went to school for journalism because I always liked to write and to tell stories. When I moved to California, I was interning with Shape Magazine for a little while and I realized that I loved the culture and the stories, but I couldn’t see myself working in an office.
So I got a job at a surf shop and I started to get into the retail world through that. I learned how fun it could be to work at a mom and pop shop and that was the beginning of my experience working in that world. What happened was, I personally had these ideas for clothes that I wanted to find and couldn’t. I would go shopping and the clothes were never soft enough for me. I have always been obsessed with my dads old t-shirts because they are so much softer then anything that was out there. Then I learned, that you could get them at thrift stores and I started shopping there and would look for old t-shirts. I just liked how those broken in garments felt. Then it was of course, not the right fit. So I found myself chopping off the bottom and cutting off the sleeves. I was manipulating these garments that I found at these thrift stores, Then it dawned on me when I found this one shirt – I loved how it fit and I wanted all my shirts to feel like that. I took the t-shirt a part and I laid out paper and made a pattern and bought a sewing machine and I taught myself how to sew. So I literally started doing it for myself because I couldn't find garments that felt the way that I wanted them to feel. Then, when I realized that I could make other garments that fit the way the t-shirt did with patterns and being able to sew, I could do the same thing with the designs that I wanted. So if I wanted sunsets or stripes, it was pretty simple because my skillset was there. I didn’t have experience. So I cut out stripes and put them on this garment and it was looking super cool and it was simple. So the reason why we do this applique technique now (which is essentially sewing fabric ontop of another fabric) was because that’s how we started in terms of creating a design to put on the garments.
Once I started to do that, I was wearing the clothes around town in Venice and wearing it to the surf shop that I worked at and everyone around me was asking about it, the brand that I was wearing and I told them that I made it myself. Not only did it feel good but the clothes felt good because I made them with this comfortable material from soft old t-shirts and the colors were attracting people.
AM: So where did the name come from?
PM: So growing up, my favorite movie was Top Gun and I had the movie poster on my wall, I still have it in my office. I just love that movie and I love the style of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGinnis and the aviator sunglasses were just such a key part of that style and that look. When I was little, I always had aviator sunglasses and all through high school and college – aviator sunglasses were always my go to. So I had this vintage collection of aviator sunglasses on my desk when I was thinking about the name for the company and I looked at them and thought, “I really love aviator sunglasses and I really love that word aviator and I feel that this brand is going to bring people together.” I always thought that aviator shades did that. I could have had a long night in college and then put on those shades and then I would look great. The aviator sunglasses were just the go to and I wanted the clothes to be the go to as well.
AM: Completely agree with everything that you’ve said as we’ve styled it in our shoots and have had great feedback and when we wear it around the city, the feedback is always so much fun. Especially when rocking the velvet ones which have such a retro vibe to them. How do you get your inspiration when you are creating the line?
PM: A lot of times, I will randomly think of something that I want to put into clothes. Sometimes things just pop in my head and I just want to see what that color combo would look like. Color is just a part of my brain. I’m always wanting to put colors together. I have Pantone books everywhere and I am always looking at putting them together. I walk around with a Ziploc bag of fabric in all different colors everywhere I go. I’ll be at the beach and I’ll say, I want to see this color with this color – so it just comes to me and I’m surrounded by old things all the time. I go to flea markets all the time because I love finding vintage stuff. I have hundreds of vintage skate boards and surf boards. I’ve always been really into retro stuff from the 70s and I have a ton of vinyl – album covers are a part of my inspiration because I’m playing vinyl all the time. I think that the old stuff that’s around me plays into it as well as it’s always around me. The color thing is just something inside of me – it’s weird.
Sometimes I’ll go to rock shows and different concerts. It’s what I do for entertainment. I don’t go to bars a lot, I’m not extremely social but I do love concerts and festivals and things like that. I remember when I thought about the velvet for example. I was backstage at a rock show and I was inspired by velvet curtains and things like that. It definitely came from Rock & Roll and there’s a lot of velvet in that world. I think sometimes my lifestyle whether it’s being at Venice Beach or at a rock show plays a little bit into my inspiration.
AM: In terms of product assortment, you have apparel, accessories and surfboards. Do you see other things that could grow into Aviator Nation as it really is a lifestyle brand.
PM: Yeah totally, I love creating new things whether it’s clothing, stores or whatever. I love building things from scratch. I see myself creating new products. It’s funny because I want to do everything, but I force myself to not do that because it could be taken the wrong way. I don't want to be that brand that tries to do everything. I really do try to draw it back and look at what I am really passionate about right now and focus on that. We just came out with outerwear this last year and that was something that I was super passionate about, but that we weren’t doing. I love snowboarding and I love the mountains and I'm always throwing on a jacket. I feel that the right jacket is a game changer and a jacket that you can travel with, stands up to the elements, it’s not too hot or too cold. I found this insulation that was kind of beyond what is being used right now – even with high end performance jackets. I want the best quality because it’s for me too and I like pushing the envelope on quality. Anyone who has my jackets understands. It's a super lightweight jacket that’s extremely warm and it packs down into your backpack. I’m also passionate about high top tennis shoes so right now I have a big collection myself and I’m always thinking that it would be cool to make shoes and doing a collection of high tops. Stuff that makes sense for me personally that I’m passionate about because it is authentic. For people that are fans of the brand, they’re all about authentic. I think everyone is becoming that way and it works well for business. This brand has been this way from day one as I started it making it for myself. If the quality is not good enough for me, then I am not going to put it on the shelf. I’m extremely picky.
AM: We appreciate the pickiness of it. You can literally travel in it without a problem, it photographs well, it‘s great and so soft.
PM: It’s crazy comfortable. I’m turning down washes all the time. I’m like that’s not good enough, it’s not soft enough. The people that work in my production at times they’re like, this is crazy this is soft and I’m like, “not soft enough.” I feel that the best feeling is like you don’t have clothes on at all. So if we’re going to make clothes, we should make them feel like you’re not. That’s what I like to think that the sweats feel like – it’s just an extension of your body.
AM: It seems like you partner with a lot of events including Austin City Limits Music Festival and Global Citizen. How important is it for you to grow your brand and to be aligned in that way?
PM: Yeah, it’s super important. It really happened organically. When I opened my first store on Abbott Kenney and built that stage on the patio, that was kind of the beginning of getting involved in the music world. I always say, “if you build it, they will come” very field of dreams. That’s what I did. I built this stage and I had all kinds of artists wanting to play on our little patio in Venice. Doing that was such a cool experience. Getting to know the artist and creating a place where bands get to play – Foster the People rolled in there one day and played on the stage and it was a couple of years before they got cool. That was happening all the time and now I have other stores with stages as a lot of my stores have these stages and I’m always saying yes to artists that want to play. It’s so fun and one day someone from Austin City Limits came into the store in Venice and they loved what I was doing. I really personally love Austin City Limits Music Festival and so when I met that person it was such a unique moment. When I did that festival, it was funny because I go to music festivals a lot – it’s part of my life and I’m always kind of feeling like I don’t want music festivals to be super commercialized and I felt like that old school vibe. I like to imagine what Woodstock would have been. I love when festivals aren’t super commercialized and built up and the one Austin really is a lot less commercialized than others. The thing is, it’s surrounded by trees and grass. Another big thing is that I felt like the artists as I’m friends with a number of artists now and was back then too – they were 3 years into having stages and a lot of the artists were burnt out I noticed – especially on the festivals. It was something that was fun but exhausting. They’d show up, they’d play their show and get back on the road. I have a lot of friends in the music industry and know how it is when they’re going on tour as I’ve actually joined friends on tour too. It’s grueling. So when the people at Austin City Limits came to my store and asked for me to get involved into what they were doing, they wanted to know that if I could do anything, what would I do?
It was an interesting moment and I said I wanted to do something for the artist. They just have these basic trailers backstage and they have their beer or water. They play their show and then they leave. Back in the day, the artist used to sit around and play music together and sit around and get to know one another. I know that because of my friends in the industry and their parents are people like Grand Nash. People who were in that world, I read a lot of books, seen a lot of documentaries and I know about how it was back in the day. I’m always about restoring the past. I told them, “what if I built a teepee that was backstage” and they could hang out there and it was just a place for the artist to chill in between their sets. They loved it and thought it was amazing. They let me build a teepee backstage where only the artists and friends and family of the artists could be and I designed it, drew it and had these Native American guys make it out of fabric and hand painted it. It has this cool rainbow look to it and we set it up backstage at ACL and it was the most incredible thing that I ever witnessed. Basically, I set it up and then bought some old vintage guitars and instruments and had it in there, candles, a couch and blankets. It was super chill and not commercial at all. They asked if I wanted signage and I said no, I just wanted a teepee. I made t-shirts that I was going to give to the artists as a gift and I make clothes and I wanted to make cool ones. The artists come to concerts but they don’t really get gear. So I wanted to make a shirt that I felt that they would wear and not the typical concert shirt. So I designed this shirt that was a vintage cool looking shirt that said Austin City Limits on it, but it was a cool one that didn’t look like the typical concert shirt. On the back of it, it actually said, “It’s All About the Music.” I felt that it was all about the artists and a festival is better if the artists is super stoked. Literally all day for the full weekend, artists would come into the teepee and they would sit down, pick up a guitar and jam out. We had The Alabama Shakes and Phoenix jamming out together.
We had Leon Bridges come in and sit down and start playing a song. He said he had just made up the song by being inspired in the teepee to make this song. It’s exactly what I wanted to happen and all the artists really started to love the teepee. It was a dream come true to come up with this environment. I think it made their experience at Austin City Limits so much better because it was so much more grounding for them, they made friends and they had the t-shirt.
Everyone wanted the t-shirt because they knew it wasn’t available but they wanted to know where they could get it. It was authentic to the artist because they had met us and hung out with us, the shirts were super soft and they probably had a bag filled with dirty clothes. Now we have done it with ACL since 2012, I’ve done a lot more festival shirts for others as well. We do the same thing where we take the teepee and it allows us to get to know the artists backstage and we make sure to make pieces where it doesn’t feel like the typical concert tee.
My thing is, I want to make gear that people will want to continue on wearing. As the customer myself, I will buy a shirt at a festival and not wear it. What you want to do is to wear a shirt that is super soft from the start and that you will want to wear. I make festival gear that is more fashionable and that people will want to continue wearing.
AM: Do you see the brand being at NYFW or at Miami Fashion Week?
PM: I think that with the swim collection, Miami Fashion Week is a great way to showcase that and I really love Miami. We did a small fashion show at the Soho House Miami when I first released our swim collection with the new velvet collection. I got invited to be a part of an event right at the time that it was coming out and it made sense. It was fun, a small show and I think doing fashion shows is really cool. I love putting the brand in front of a lot of people that love fashion. I think that sweats and swimwear really is fashionable. I don’t say no when I think that something comes about that makes sense doing. I think NYFW and Miami Fashion Week is great for us.
AM: Do you sponsor or have any athlete ambassadors?
PM: We have several athletes that shop with us that come in and a lot of times, managers reach out to us and ask if you want to sponsor. We’ll send them things and it’s about people that specifically and personally like the brand. We don’t have any specific sponsorships but we have a lot of athletes that shop in the store.
AM: As someone who is active and an athlete, what are 3 things that are always in your bag when you’re heading to the beach to relax or to surf?
PM: When I go to the beach to surf, I always have to have my speaker – a portable one that I love and I take everywhere I go. I always have a good book – I love to read and I’m into business books. It’s interesting to read on philosophies that entrepreneurs have taken. Maybe my ukele – I grew up learning whatever instruments I could get my hands on and I have always liked this instrument because it’s small and easy to carry around.
You can hear Paige Mycoskie on our show, BUNGALOW SK which is a part of Athleisure Studio, our multi-media podcast network! Make sure to subscribe to find out when the episode drops. You can hear it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts and wherever you enjoy listening to your favorite podcast.