Aviator Nation in Malibu cuts staff

The Aviator Nation Malibu store is shown on Pacific Coast Highway. Photo by The Malibu Times.

Former employees accuse retailer of unfair termination 

After a flip-flop on downsizing retail staff at Aviator Nation it appears the trendy clothing company has slashed its workforce at some brick and mortar locations, including Malibu. 

The company that bills itself as a “1970’s inspired California lifestyle brand” is known for its cozy sweatshirts and sweatpants emblazoned with rainbow stripes, lightning bolts, tiger stripes or smiley faces and for its catchphrase “Pray for Surf.” The clothes aren’t inexpensive with a matching sweatsuit totaling more than $300 or outerwear jackets topping $800. 

Aviator Nation and its founder Paige Mycoskie have twice been featured in Forbes magazine this month, most recently last Friday. Forbes has reported Mycoskie as one of the richest self-made women in the U.S. with an estimated worth of $380 million. She owns nine homes, including one in Malibu. 

The business magazine’s most recent article reported on turmoil at storefront locations due to Mycoskie’s abrupt call for cuts to the retail staff even with growing sales numbers. After the call to downsize, managers at the brand’s 17 locations pushed back, arguing that the company needed adequate floor staff to accommodate customers. Employees complained of hearing the news while the 43-year-old Mycoskie was on vacation in Hawaii. A company statement said the founder, who owns 100 percent of the company, would return early from her preplanned vacation after receiving a barrage of staff complaints about the proposed cutbacks. 

On Friday, June 23, Forbes reported Aviation Nation’s founder walked back the proposed changes, saying they were “currently on hold while we review and address the team’s concerns.”

But that statement was contradicted by three recently terminated employees at the Malibu location. They claim the local staff has been cut from roughly a dozen to only three. The former employees claim that in the time frame the pending layoffs were reported by Forbes, they were fired without just cause. 

The three former sales associates, all in their early 20s, contacted the Malibu Times to report their unhappiness with the way their separation from the company was handled. Each independently asked for anonymity for fear of retribution. 

The three allege that they and four other coworkers were terminated for purported cause, rendering them ineligible for unemployment benefits. The former employees who spoke with the Malibu Times said they were unfairly accused of fraud relating to the company’s customer rewards program that gives incentive points to returning customers. The former workers said management told them they had been “fired.” As to the fraud allegations, the three former Aviation Nation associates asserted that their actions were consistent with the training they had received from the company. “It seems they’re just trying to substantiate mass layoffs,” one said. 

Forbes had already alerted the business community of impending layoffs, further engendering skepticism among the former workers that their terminations were truly for cause. 

The three former employees also alleged various business irregularities that they indicated they were uncomfortable witnessing but had no power to affect change. All three told the Malibu Times they were frequently asked to perform tasks outside the scope of their retail clerk positions including one task they called a “threat to our safety,” which was climbing 20 feet up on an extension ladder to change the marquee sign on Pacific Coast Highway.

According to one of the employees, “There have been a series of awful things that led up to this.” They cited a revolving door of managers leaving locally due to chaotic upper management demands and sales quotas. 

“Paige is the sole owner, designer, CFO, CEO. She controls everything,” the employee said. “She took out a large dividend (reported to be $47.5 million in 2021) and then the company wasn’t meeting its sales goal. So, in response, she decided to make cuts in all the stores.”

Mycoskie has stated that most of Aviator Nation’s revenue comes from online sales and not brick and mortar stores. However, one Malibu employee claimed that the local store is the chain’s second-highest grossing location with $5 million to $10 million in sales annually. Another claimed sales in Malibu can rack up to $25,000 a day and that with that volume, staff is needed on the floor.

Two of the sales associates also complained about a new uniform dress code imposed. The low-cut jumpsuit received blowback from managers and female employees who claimed they were too revealing. Because the air conditioning is out in Malibu, the warm jumpsuits have apparently been mothballed locally.

The terminated workers also claim that they were expressly prohibited from providing clothing that was stained, ripped, or otherwise deemed unfit for sale to local homeless people and that that directive came from Mycoskie. 

The three former workers say they are considering legal options and are currently seeking employment locally. One has already found a job.

The Malibu Times has reached out to Aviator Nation for comment but has not yet received a reply.

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Paige Mycoskie, founder of the Aviator Nation clothing brand and retail chain, is shown in a profile by Forbes magazine. The company has laid off workers in its stories, and three employees of the Malibu store have claimed they were fired without just cause. Photo from Forbes magazine

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The Aviator Nation Malibu store is shown on Pacific Coast Highway. Contributed Photo