Aviator Nation, which has grown to have five retail locations in California, first began in Paige’s Venice Beach garage, ten years ago. She worked at a surf shop by day and at night put her self-taught sewing skills to use creating vintage-inspired pieces. Within a year Paige had begun selling her pieces at a local street fair, and her Aviator Nation brand became so popular that she was able to open her first store by 2009.
With the opening of the flagship store, Paige was able to bring in her other passion, music, when she began hosting free concerts on the back patio of the Venice store. She would go on to fuel this passion with several other successful music partnerships. In 2012, she teamed up with the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Not only did she design merchandise for the festival that sold out, but she also designed and installed a teepee for musicians to lounge in. The rainbow teepee was outfitted with vintage instruments for the artists to play. Paige then went on to work with John Mayer, designing his ‘Born + Raised’ tour merchandise.
Her achievements have not gone unnoticed. In 2013, Page was named Menswear Designer of the Year by GQ Magazine. This acknowledgement came with the opportunity to create a collection for GQ and Gap. Just last year she was tasked to design merchandise for the Global Citizen Festival, and her designs were featured in New York Fashion Week.
Paige’s brand continues to grow. Aviator Nation’s five stores in California include: Venice Beach (2009), Manhattan Beach (2011), Malibu (2014), and San Francisco (2015). Add to that the successful release of a full collection of surfboards this year, and there’s no doubt that Aviator Nation will continue to spread its Californian ‘good vibrations’ across the globe.
How has growing up in Southern California influenced your brand?
I actually grew up in Texas! I moved to Southern California (Venice) about 15 years ago. Living in California, and specifically Venice Beach, inspires me all the time. I love to surf, hike, snowboard, see amazing musical performances and be in nature. These things and being active outdoors fuels me to design. I really need to be in nature to design. When I’m not designing at the beach, I love to retreat to Big Sur to design up in the mountains. California is a beautiful state, and I feel lucky every day that I get to live here and experience it.
If you could use three adjectives to describe your aesthetic, what would they be?
Authentic, California-made, Vintage – sorry, I know that’s technically four!
Authentic, because the brand really is my life and the lives of everyone who works for me. I don’t cut corners when it comes to quality, and the designs represent a culture and time period the brand itself is inspired by. Music, surf, and a true California lifestyle not only inspire the designs but they are also the backbone of my team and the lives we live.
California-made, because we have our own factory in Los Angeles where all of our gear is made. Hours of love go into each piece, and every detail is truly done by hand. Not only is the quality extremely high, but the level of detail is unmatched.
Vintage, because the Aviator Nation gear truly looks and feels like your favorite vintage sweatshirt you’ve worn a million times. This is an extremely important element to what I do. If it doesn’t look and feel like real vintage, then it doesn’t pass quality control. Vintage is my passion, so staying true to this element is critical to what I do. Sometimes there will be imperfections in the garments and in my opinion that just adds to the radness. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being rad.
Are there any unique challenges to producing a brand based on the West Coast? Conversely, what are the advantages?
There are definitely challenges with producing a brand in America. Not only is labor cost extremely high, but good workers are hard to find. It was very important for me to open up my own factory and hire my own sewers early on, because most contractors and sub-contractors didn’t want to touch the level of detail I demanded. I quickly noticed how most L.A. factories just wanted me to design something that was easy and fast to produce, so they could get it out the door fast – but that didn’t line up at all with what I wanted to design. I would shop my designs around to factories all over town, but nobody wanted to make my garments because they required so much time and energy. Eventually I came to a place where I had to decide to either start designing things that were not so complicated or open up my own factory and hire my own sewers to do whatever I wanted. I am glad I decided on the latter because now I get to design whatever I want whenever I want, and the crazy level of detail in my designs are never holding me back. I think at the end of the day the sewers that work for me actually like their job working for me more than they liked sewing basic tees in other shops prior, because they get to perform real art with me. I see the smiles on their faces when I go into the factory and I can tell they are having fun. That makes me much happier then saving money on less complicated designs. So I guess that answers your question about the advantages, too.
You’ve already broken into the world of music festivals and concert merchandise styling. Do you plan to venture into any other areas of fashion?
I plan to venture wherever the wind takes me. All Aviator Nation collaborations have evolved completely organically, and it’s worked for me so far. If someone comes to me and wants to work with me and I’m feeling the vibe, I don’t hesitate. Sometimes I get approached by people that don’t share the same energy or style that I feel the brand represents, and I have to pass because I can’t do every project that hits my desk. Luckily I’ve had a lot of amazing people reach out to me. I’ve been really blessed with incredible opportunities and incredible people in my life. Sometimes I pinch myself when I go to a music festival I’ve designed the gear for, and styles are selling out on day one. It’s a dream come true for me to get to do projects like music festivals and tour gear, since I’m such a huge music fan and then when I see the gear sell out it’s like the cherry on top of the sundae. Life is good.
Where do you see Aviator Nation in ten years?
My goal has always been to stand the test of time. I want to be known for many years to come to be the brand that makes the most comfortable hoodie and pair of sweatpants in the land. I want to continue to open RAD retail locations, because I love to build unique stores. Each store will be special and different than the one before, and each will be a reason to visit that town. I love bringing Aviator Nation into new communities, so I see new stores in a variety of rad cities around the globe over the next ten years. I also want to continue to push the boundaries with what can be produced in America. Currently I’m working on new categories that are incredibly challenging to produce here in the U.S. I’ve been testing fabrics and sewing techniques for several years, and we are just now getting close to launching things I’ve wanted to produce for years. Within the next year I will be launching outerwear, swim, active, board shorts, and wetsuits, all of which I’m proud to say will be made in California. I want my customers to continue to have reasons to come back to us, and I want them to be excited each year to see what we will do next. I want to keep the spirit of the brand alive and continue to build our Aviator Nation community. At the end of the day I want to spread love and have fun. I want my fans to have fun, too.
What advice would you give to aspiring designers?
Two things – One, never give up. Over the years so many people have told me things could not be done. It’s amazing how much pessimism is out there. We are so much more capable then we think. If they say it can’t be done, then don’t listen.
And two, be original and take the criticism with a grain of salt. Not everyone is going to love every design you ever do and that’s okay. People will try to change you, mold you, and use you. You have to remember that you are the designer, and you have to stay true to what YOU want to do at the end of the day. Without this mind set, how can you ever truly be an original?