Aviator Nation Founder’s Road to Becoming One of America’s Richest Women

At CEO Today, we love a female entrepreneur success story. This month, we tell you all about SoCal surfer Paige Mycoskie and her road to becoming one of America’s richest self-made women through her uber-popular clothing brand Aviator Nation.

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, TikTok has become the perfect new online space to propel a fashion brand. More and more companies are seeing the influence the platform has over its users and are fully embracing using TikTok as a key marketing tool. One brand that got massive traction from it during the pandemic is Paige Mycoskie’s Aviator Nation. Known for its smiley-face tracksuits and 70s-inspired rainbow-striped hoodies, the company saw extraordinary success when GenZs looked for fun loungewear to spend their days in during lockdown.

Aviator Nation went from $70 million in sales in 2020 to $110 million last year and according to their own projections, it expects to at least double the latter figure by 2023; with gross profit margins estimated to be over 70%. The company’s doing so well that Mycoskie, who started this venture by making her own T-shirts on her Venice Beach kitchen table 16 years ago, paid herself a $47.5 million dividend in 2021 – the first dividend she’s ever received despite fully owning the company. According to Forbes, Mycoskie is currently one of the richest women in the US with an estimated net worth of $350 million, although she states that the actual figure is at least double that. As Forbes reports, the 42-year-old entrepreneur owns a portfolio of nine properties spread across Malibu, Venice Beach, Marina del Rey, Aspen and Austin.

Mycoskie is a free-spirited surfer at heart and that can be seen in the way she runs her business too. Instead of looking for outside investment, like many other clothing brands do, she’s only ever relied on expanding lines of credit from a number of banks, including Wells Fargo and Frost Bank. During the early days of the business, she’s received $8,000 in 2006, $35,000 in 2007 and $100,000 in 2009. Mycoskie has always firmly believed that working with investors usually comes with less control and less freedom and says that: “To have the creativity, you can’t have the pressure.”

“To have the creativity, you can’t have the pressure.”

Paige Mycoskie was born in Arlington, Texas to mother Pam Mycoskie, a health-focused cookbooks author and father Mike Mycoskie, an orthopaedic surgeon and the team doctor for the Texas Rangers baseball franchise. At the age of 22, Paige moved to LA with her brother Blake, who later founded Toms Shoes, to take part in the CBS adventure reality show The Amazing Race. The duo placed third and fell in love with the Los Angeles lifestyle during the press tour they did there after the show. After dropping out of university to move to Hollywood, Mycoskie worked for Survivor, another CBS adventure reality show, but quickly felt disconnected from her true calling. She quit her job to focus on her passion for photography and started working part-time at a small surf shop in Venice Beach. This is when her love for retail was born. She bought herself a sewing machine and began reassembling shirts she’d bought from thrift stores and adding her own hand-stitched designs to them. The new garments she made for herself received so many positive comments from everyone around her that Paige quickly decided to turn this into a business venture and start selling them.

In September 2006, after months of making clothes, Mycoskie rented a booth at a street fair in Venice Beach for $500 and immediately sold out everything – making $8,000 in just one day. She quit her job at the surf shop and devoted her full attention to making clothes and selling them at local stores and trade shows. In 2009, Paige rented her first shop, which she bought in April this year for $5 million.

The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was a stressful time for Aviator Nation. Mycoskie had just opened six new shops in 2019, doubling the brand’s storefront presence. Exactly a day after opening their most recent shop in Las Vegas, she found out that they’d need to shut everything down. Instead of going into panic mode, Paige called the company head of e-commerce and said that they have 24 hours to make as much money as possible, so they can afford to pay their nearly 300 employees. They quickly organised a rare 20% off all items sale, with all proceeds going to the company employees and sold inventory for $1.4 million on the day of the sale. And this is how it all started. As Mycoskie believes, selling that many items opened their door to success. “All that product went out and it was like a beast of word of mouth, because then everyone is at home with nothing to do, posting pictures in our stuff,” she said.

And GenZs love what Aviator Nation stands for. Not only are their designs super cool, but they are also all sketched by Mycoskie herself and are handmade by people instead of machines. Every garment is made in the company’s Huntington Park factory, where each employee is paid a minimum of $17 an hour. The prices, which go up to $207 for a hoodie, could raise eyebrows, especially when comparing them to Aviator Nation’s competitors’ prices. However, as more and more people are turning to local brands that care about the people who work for them, investing a little bit more in a handmade tracksuit, made by a fairly paid factory worker in California seems to be the direction in which fashion is headed.

Thanks to the positive cash flow, the lack of supply chain issues thanks to keeping all production local and the lack of debt, Paige Mycoskie has managed to build a company that has not only weathered the COVID-19 storm but has managed to become one of the most impressive success stories the global pandemic’s produced. Focused on expansion, Mycoskie plans to move from clothing to lifestyle and start making accessories and home goods too. She intends to stay true to her “slow growth” strategy and although only time will tell if this happens, for now, we can’t wait to see what the near future holds for Aviator Nation and its founder.

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