Paige Mycoskie’s Aviator Nation took off during the pandemic as TikTok teens embraced the Venice Beach vibe by snapping up its pricey smiley-faced sweatpants and rainbow-striped hoodies.
If there’s anyone who embodies the SoCal spirit, it’s Paige Mycoskie. Blue-eyed and sun-kissed with a mess of wavy blonde hair, the Aviator Nation founder looks like she just stepped off a surfboard. “Being in the water is huge for me—I’m a Pisces,” says Mycoskie, arriving at an Aviator Nation outpost in Austin, Texas, where she also has a home. She might be more than 1,000 miles from the Pacific, but she’s in a half-buttoned Hawaiian shirt, ripped jeans and a pair of dark-tinted Aviator (natch) sunglasses. Nailed to the walls around her are surfboards, waterskis and Jimi Hendrix posters, all things she collects.
But don’t let her laid-back look and breezy talk fool you. The 42-year-old has worked her way from stitching together T-shirts on her Venice Beach kitchen table 16 years ago to running one of the nation’s hottest fashion brands, which is especially popular in TikTok nation. Known for its pricey smiley-face sweatpants ($160) and retro-looking rainbow-striped zip-up hoodies ($190), Aviator Nation took off during the pandemic as homebound teens and twentysomethings swapped designer denim for soft sweats.
The company increased its sales from $70 million in 2020 to $110 million in 2021 and is projecting at least a doubling of that figure by 2023; its gross profit margins are estimated to be over 70%. Aviator Nation, which is still headquartered in Los Angeles, did so well that Mycoskie, who owns 100% of it, paid herself a $47.5 million dividend last year—her first-ever dividend. Forbes estimates she’s worth $350 million (she says the number is at least double that). She just bought her ninth property, a $15 million lakeside house in Austin, adding to a portfolio that includes homes in Malibu and Venice Beach, two Marina del Rey beach pads and an Aspen ski chalet.
Much of her financial success has come from taking no outside investment, instead relying on expanding lines of credit from various banks including Wells Fargo and Frost Bank—$8,000 in 2006, $35,000 in 2007, $100,000 in 2009—to grow the business early on. “If I was going to take money from someone, I would have to owe someone something, and it would be not in my control. I wouldn’t feel the freedom that I feel to design what I design,” Mycoskie says. “To have the creativity, you can’t have the pressure.”
Every piece of Aviator Nation apparel is sketched by Mycoskie and handmade by people, not machines, who are paid a minimum of $17 an hour in the company’s Huntington Park factory (the signature six stripes are stitched on one by one). “I have hired assistant designers before . . . but I’ve never liked it,” she says. Keeping production local has also enabled Aviator Nation to insulate itself almost entirely from the supply chain crisis that has roiled many competitors.
But at triple what it costs to buy a pair of Adidas sweatpants, Aviator Nation’s prices raise eyebrows. Alixandra Barasch, an associate professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern School of Business, says the brand is succeeding partly because of the outlandish prices. “From the perspective of those individuals who can afford it, it allows them to nicely signal wealth, but also signal these other values like ‘I’m laid-back,’ ” she says. The few models featured on its website—predominantly white, lanky and very fit— boast her same low-key, athletic surfer style.
For her part, Mycoskie defends her prices as the product of high-quality fabrics, the complexity of the hand-stitched designs (most clothing companies use computer-generated graphics) and the premium of making everything in the U.S.
Blake and Paige Mycoskie, then 25 and 22, trekked through New Zealand (pictured) and jumped off Brazil’s Sugarloaf Mountain while competing on the second season of The Amazing Race. The siblings placed third out of 11 teams. 2002 CBS PHOTO ARCHIVE
Even as sales soar, Mycoskie is sticking with her business plan. She has seen the alternative. Her older brother, Blake, 45, started the pay-it-forward shoe company Toms in 2006, the same year she launched Aviator Nation (in a curious coincidence, they even came up with their business ideas on the same day; Paige designed the Toms logo). Its “One for One” donation model, in which Toms gave away a pair of shoes for each one it sold, made the company very successful very quickly. Bain Capital paid Blake a reported $300 million for a 50% stake in 2014, but the novelty soon wore off, and efforts to diversify flopped. In 2019, creditors took over Toms, including Blake’s stake. He exited that same year. Its flagship store down the street from Paige’s on Venice Beach’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard shuttered in January, but the company is still in business.
“Even though we started our businesses at the same time and even though we’re brother and sister, she’s really done this all on her own,” says Blake, who is now living in Costa Rica, taking a timeout from the “entrepreneur ring” to focus on his family. “Especially when your business has gotten as big as hers has gotten, everyone’s telling you, you need to hire these executives, you need to bring all these investors in. . . . But she just stays true to what feels right to her and her instincts. . . . That’s something I wish I’d done better at Toms.”
• • •
Despite the conspicuous California accessorization, Myscoskie’s roots are in fact in Texas, where she grew up in the Dallas-adjacent city of Arlington, part of a family of athletes with a creative streak. Her mother, a former aerobics instructor, wrote health-forward cookbooks; in the 1980s and early ’90s, her father was the team doctor for the Texas Rangers baseball franchise.
It wasn’t until she was 22 that Mycoskie finally made her way to California after competing with Blake in the second season of The Amazing Race, a CBS adventure reality show that involves traveling around the world and competing in goofy challenges—finding a tree in Rio de Janeiro called “Fat Maria” or operating a cargo crane in Hong Kong—for a $1 million prize. The “all-American” brother-sister duo, as they were called, placed third, resulting in a Los Angeles press tour.
That’s when Mycoskie fell in love. “I’ll never forget walking out to the beach and seeing people rollerblading and biking and playing frisbee and volleyball and surfing, and I was like ‘Oh, my God, this is my dream,’ ” she recalls. She dropped out of Arizona State University one semester short of getting a journalism degree and moved to Hollywood, where she took a job at CBS helping with casting for Survivor, another of the network’s hit reality shows.
Surfing before work and housesitting for traveling movie producers at night: Mycoskie’s life seemed like a twenty something’s fantasy camp
Surfing before work and housesitting for traveling movie producers at night: Mycoskie’s life seemed like a twenty something’s fantasy camp, but she found herself frustrated by the disconnect from the creative passions of her childhood. So she quit her glitzy job to focus on photography, supplementing wedding and headshot gigs with part-time work at a mom-and-pop surf shop in Venice Beach. It was there, inputting orders on the store’s computer, that she discovered she loved retail.