Aviator Nation Founder Walks Back Plans For Retail Cuts After Backlash

It’s not all rainbows and smiley faces at popular clothing brand Aviator Nation. Founder Paige Mycoskie, one of the wealthiest self-made female entrepreneurs in the U.S., set off a frenzy at her company last week after calling for sudden cuts to Aviator Nation’s retail staff – and then jetting off on a week-long Hawaii vacation.

The 43-year-old Mycoskie, who owns 100% of the business, known for its, yes, pricey smiley-faced sweatpants and rainbow-striped hoodies popular among TikTok teens and twenty-somethings, then appeared to back track on the plans, which involved slashing the hours worked by many employees in the company’s 17 stores.

“We drafted new guidelines for retail employee scheduling in order to provide additional structure as we continue scaling the business,” Mycoskie said in a statement shared via an Aviator Nation spokesperson late on Thursday, a day after she returned home to a barrage of staff complaints and to questions from Forbes about her plans. (She had outlined retail expansion plans in a Forbes article weeks earlier).

“With our continued growth, this was intended to provide the team with more structure and support, however, once we released the new guidelines it came to my attention that the team is concerned with the proposed changes,” Mycoskie’s statement continued. An Aviator Nation spokesperson denied that the changes related to any decrease in retail sales at the company.

The founder added that all plans for layoffs or cutbacks on employee hours are “currently on hold while we review and address the team’s concerns.” The company said Friday afternoon that Mycoskie had alerted her team and that “the modified schedule was not put into place yet.” However, as of Friday evening, two employees and one store manager told Forbes that employees’ hours had already been reduced and that they’d heard no news yet of reversing those changes.

Forbes was contacted on June 13 by two employees at Aviator Nation’s location in Laguna Beach, California, who said they were pulled into an emergency meeting earlier that day and informed that most of their team would likely be let go following new orders from HQ. By the next day, the employees, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said they were updated that there wouldn’t be layoffs at their store but that both full-time and part-time employees–a number of whom were invited back to work this summer after working at the company last year–would instead see their hours significantly reduced. (An Aviator Nation spokesperson said it is “categorically false” that employees at this store were ever told they could be laid off.)

The Laguna Beach store would usually have up to seven people on the sales floor, but the new requirements called for a maximum of three during weekdays and four during the weekends, according to the store employees. One of the sales associates said they were told they would be reduced from working five days a week to one day a week, which meant they would have to look for another job and therefore it had a similar impact to being laid off. “We never thought something like this would happen at Aviator Nation since Paige talks so much about how she prioritizes her employees,” this person said.

Employees at two other Aviator Nation stores told Forbes that workers’ hours were diminished at their locations, too, though the cuts varied by store. The Aviator Nation store in Austin was told to have fewer people on the sales floor, according to two employees there (this is the closest store to Mycoskie, who divides her time between her homes in the Texas capital and Aspen, Colorado–where she recently splashed out $20 million for her ninth home). Meanwhile, an employee at Aviator Nation’s Venice Beach location says part-time workers at their store were also reduced to one day a week. “I will probably not be with the company by the end of the month,” this person said.

Adding to employees’ grievances about the situation was the fact that Mycoskie was on vacation in Hawaii when the new guidelines were sent through to employees. She was out of the office from at least Wednesday June 14 and returned on Wednesday June 21. A company spokesperson described this as a “scheduled family vacation.” Over the weekend Mycoskie posted a video of herself beachside and a selfie to her Instagram story with the caption, “Island life.” “She’s posting like inspirational quotes on her story though and I’m like girl what???” one sales associate said in a text.

Forbes recently highlighted Mycoskie as one of the richest self-made women in the U.S. with an estimated net worth of $380 million. In an April interview, she stressed Aviator Nation’s growing sales, which increased from $110 million in 2021 to $130 million in 2022, and new store openings in New York City and Nashville in the coming months; the company just opened a location in The Hamptons. She made no mention of any plans for impending layoffs. “I do believe it’s important for the long-term success of the company to keep brick and mortar,” Mycoskie said at the time, though she noted that most of the company’s revenue came through its online channels instead of the stores.

Though she has since hit pause on her plans for a retail shakeup, some employees painted the saga as reflective of broader management issues at the buzzy clothing company. Aviator Nation also halted the introduction of new mandatory “uniforms” that proved unpopular among some employees, who complained about wearing the long-sleeved, black “flight suits” (they retail for $350 a pop on Aviator Nation’s website) they were sent in hot climates like California and Texas. “We look like we’re about to go and change a tire,” said a sales associate at the Austin store.

“[Paige] is on vacation quite a bit,” said one store manager, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. The manager said the company’s founder has been “pretty out of the loop on what’s going on in retail stores for quite a while by choice… Recently her attention was turned back to stores and she realized we have ‘too many employees.’” The Venice Beach sales associate and a sales associate at Aviator Nation’s Austin location said they rarely see Mycoskie at their locations.

A company spokesperson responded that Mycoskie, who launched Aviator Nation back in 2007 while working part-time at a Venice Beach surf shop and grew it over the years with no outside funding (as detailed by Forbes in a 2022 profile), remains “very involved in every aspect of her business including the retail stores but she also trusts her leadership team to manage their departments, especially as the company continues to grow.” The spokesperson said that Mycoskie still visits stores weekly and “reviews photos of the ones she is not visiting as often regularly.”

The Venice Beach sales associate also highlighted a cliquey environment at the company (“All of Paige’s friends are hired and her girlfriend works for her,” said the employee, referencing Mycoskie’s girlfriend Jessica Jean Martin who is the company’s head of social media and partnerships) as well as what they said appeared to be over-the-top spending. They say Aviator Nation was flying many of their colleagues back and forth to the company’s new store in The Hamptons for the store’s May opening. “They did it in this crazy way where they fly one person there for a few days and then fly them back and then fly another person there,” said the employee. This company spends money like just down the drain.”

“We did fly members to the East Coast in order to build-out our new East Hampton and NYC shops and get those stores up and running,” said the Aviator Nation spokesperson. “We do offer the team the opportunity to travel to wherever the business may need them… Our employees consider these opportunities ‘perks.’”

Another speed bump at the trendy retailer: an uptick in customer complaints after the company’s Memorial Day sale, say three employees. The company was unable to facilitate the massive influx in orders that came in after the brand marked prices down by 40% and has been flooded with complaints from customers either receiving the wrong orders or still waiting for updates on orders they placed in May. Dozens of comments from disgruntled buyers on many of Aviator Nation’s Instagram posts prompted Mycoskie to respond from her personal Instagram on multiple posts between June 6 and June 11 that the company received “about 4x the amount of orders we typically have during a big sale” and the team was “overwhelmed.”

But a Laguna Beach sales associate says the company had the same issue last year with its Black Friday sale. “This is an issue that happens every single time that we have a sale,” this employee said. “And then even though people haven’t received their items from that sale, we had another Father’s Day Sale.” Aviator Nation says that all its Memorial Day orders have now been processed and shipped to customers.

The three store employees also said they are also seeing more complaints from customers about the quality of the clothing. “It’s practically every day now that a customer is coming in showing us this full set that they bought and they spent $400 on and the color of the top and the bottom doesn’t match. That’s one of our most frequent (complaints),” said one Laguna Beach sales associate, who adds that people also complain that shirts are slanted or the stripes or falling off. “Your clothes from Lululemon would not look like that,” added the Austin sales associate.

“Our sales–retail, wholesale and ecommerce–continue to grow and we have a lifetime guarantee on our products for any manufacturing defects,” said an Aviator Nation spokesperson. “The brand will pay to have the item fixed or replace it. We stand behind the excellent quality of our clothing.”

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