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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Aviator Nation Owner Is Richer Than Ever As SoCal Surfer Brand Arrives In New York

Paige Mycoskie, who is now worth an estimated $380 million, unveils expansion plans for her trendy clothing brand including new stores and product lines.


he 43-year-old founder of uber popular clothing brand Aviator Nation, Paige Mycoskie, is curled over a desktop computer in the home office of her lakeside Austin mansion. Catching her in the throes of a typical, not at all glamorous, workday, feels almost unnatural. But it’s a busy time for Mycoskie, who just signed a lease for Aviator Nation’s first permanent storefront in New York City at 93 Mercer St. in Soho.

“I’m actually designing the store right now,” the fashion brand owner told Forbes in an April interview, shortly after snapping up the 2,700 square feet around the corner from Levi’s and Uniqlo’s U.S. flagship. Mycoskie wasn’t sure then exactly how it would look but promised Aviator Nation’s NYC hub would be “unique and special” to the area, like her brand’s 17 other locations. “I like to usually celebrate local artists and stuff. I’m a huge fan of Madonna and she’s from New York so I’ll have something related to Madonna in that space,” she riffs, adding: “I’ll have a record wall with lots of local albums and stuff like that for sure.”

Mycoskie, who started Aviator Nation back in 2007 while working at a Venice Beach surf shop, is still very much hands on with her brand, personally sketching out everything from its storefronts to its designer sweatpants. This has helped make her one of America’s richest self-made women, worth an estimated $380 million, according to Forbes’ newly released 2023 rankings. She owns 100% of the company, which took off during the COVID-19 pandemic among TikTok teens and twentysomethings. (The company did so well the Aviator Nation founder paid herself a $47.5 million dividend in 2021). This year she’s an estimated $30 million richer, thanks to an increase in revenues to $130 million in 2022, up from $110 million the previous year.

It’s not quite the growth Mycoskie was predicting. At this time last year, Mycoskie told Forbes she thought the company’s revenues would at least double by 2023. Today, the fashion designer maintains that it’s still an achievable goal for revenue to reach $200 million by the end of this year, largely citing her California-based brand’s arrival on the opposite coast. Mycoskie tested out a two-week pop-up shop in Manhattan in December, which she described as a success, and opened Aviator Nation’s first East Coast location in the Hamptons at the end of May.

“I was pretty confident that we needed to open a store in New York regardless just because I think our second biggest revenue stream online is in New York and we have no stores there,” she says, noting that it took “forever” to find the “right spot.” While there may not be as much of an appetite for swimsuits and surfboards, Mycoskie is hoping that the colder climate will push customers toward her pricey jackets, like its $875 puffers and $495 windbreakers, which she says already make up about 8% of the company’s sales.

On top of its East Coast debut, Aviator Nation will soon open a behemoth store in Nashville, its first in Tennessee. Mycoskie signed the lease to take over a building in The Gulch, a trendy and centrally located neighborhood, previously occupied by local retailer Two Old Hippies, in April 2022. The 8,500-square foot space, which is scheduled to open in August or September, will double as a live-music venue on the weekends, seizing on the city’s thriving music scene, according to Mycoskie. It will look similar to Aviator Nation’s existing concert space in its Malibu store, known as Aviator Nation Dreamland (the Nashville store will have the same name).

Though most of Aviator Nation’s sales come from its website, Mycoskie says brick and mortar continues to be an important tool for brand awareness. “In Nashville, we’ve just had a sign on the door for the past several months while we get the permits and everything and it’s really funny because just from that–I can’t imagine how this is possible–but I looked at our quarter one numbers and we are seeing a rise in Nashville,” she explains, adding that “experiences” like Aviator Nation “Dreamland” and “RIDE,” an exercise studio the company opened in Los Angeles in 2022, are successfully driving new customers to the brand.

Moving forward, however, Mycoskie says she plans to focus less on opening new stores and more on expanding into product categories, which she sees as the key way to “really escalate” revenues. She’s currently in the process of designing Aviator Nation’s own sunglasses line (a natural progression for a brand named for Mycoskie’s love of the designer shades), as well as footwear (she highlights “sandals” to sell in her stores near the beach) and bags. “Rolling out some new categories I’m passionate about will be the next stage of our growth,” explains Mycoskie, though she hesitates to nail down any specific timeline due to the complexities of producing new types of products with a U.S.-based supply chain.

In fact, all of her items are made in a factory in California. Creating everything locally can sometimes be a headache, but Mycoskie says it has been helpful overall in navigating a challenging retail environment over the past year marked by high inflation and a dropoff in discretionary spending among American shoppers. She says she bumped prices “a little bit” for about half of Aviator Nation’s already expensive clothing due to the rising cost of materials, but otherwise has been able to keep things largely “consistent” thanks to the company’s local production. The company’s gross margins are between 70% and 80%, depending on the product, according to Mycoskie.

“I’ve always kept a really tight inventory. I don’t overproduce,” says Mycoskie, noting that payroll for her employees and fabric are her “two biggest expenses.” “Right now I’m not really slowing down. So far we’re still selling out of the product.”

The all-American aspect of her brand has also helped battle a growing number of “dupes,” or copy-cat products popping up on the market, says Mycoskie. (On TikTok, videos directing shoppers toward the best “Aviator Nation sweatpants dupes” have over 8.5 million views.) “I haven’t really seen any Made In America companies knocking us off yet,” says the Aviator Nation founder. She says she has a lawyer reaching out to those ripping off her brand the most closely. “It’s like, it’s such a huge difference [in quality],” she adds. “I can’t stress out about it too much.”

Mycoskie is trying to de-stress in general. That includes taking on projects based on personal whims, like messaging the Norwegian EDM star Kygo, her “favorite DJ,” on LinkedIn to ask if she could make the merchandise for the destination festivals hosted by his brand, the Palm Tree Crew. “We became friends right away,” says Mycoskie, adding that Kygo (real name Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll) came to play pool in Aviator Nation’s Austin store, “So I think we’re just doing all their stuff now.” She also designed merchandise for the 2023 Phoenix Open golf tour and the Kentucky Derby. “It’s so random but I love horses and I just thought it would be fun,” she explains.

On her quest to enjoy life, the fashion designer also recently splashed out $20 million in cash to buy her ninth home, her second in Aspen, Colorado, where she said she is trying to spend half of the year she isn’t in Austin (she bought her $15 million Austin main residence last year to surf on the Colorado River). “I was in California for years and I’m kind of liking the small town thing now,” explains Mycoskie. “I get up early and I grind until like 4 o’clock and then I go on the lake in Austin. Or when I was in Aspen this winter, I would just go snowboarding… I really just believe that you have to have that balance. You can work your butt off but you have to have fun too.”


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