My favorite travel apparel is made by a local Los Angeles company called Aviator. Don’t tell anyone I said this but I essentially live in two pairs of Aviator’s comfort-stretch travel jeans — officially called The World’s Best Travel Jeans — made from 49% Lyocell, 42% cotton, 6% elasterell, and 3% spandex. You know travel jeans are extraordinary when you wear them in a year like 2020 when everyone is stuck at home all the time.
Colby Kane is the designer and former Macy’s art director behind the brand, and he and I kindred spirits. We both live to travel and make travel part of our work. But since March, he’s had to adjust to the radical new realities of running a small fashion brand in the most challenging business climate in recent history.
Aviator recently introduced a new air-dry polo shirt made from the same sweat-proof, odor-resistant, take-it-anywhere fabric that’s the brand’s signature. Aviator makes hoodies, t-shirts and, now, face masks with merino wool, and the stuff is practically bombproof. The new polo is cut like a classic with a crisp collar, a tailored fit at the shoulders and a nifty Aviator airplane logo at the chest that signals: you haven’t given up on going places.
I asked Kane how he’s managing in the face of pandemic shutdowns, and what keeps him sane as he pivots and re-prioritizes, all while staying in style.
Being a small clothing company among the giants of retail was already challenging. How did the pandemic impact on Aviator?
Colby Kane: The pandemic had a huge impact on Aviator. Since we make clothing for the travel lifestyle our sales completely stopped from March 13th to the beginning of April. I remember seeing a couple sales come in for jeans and thinking “who’s buying jeans right now for their next trip?” It was over those first couple of weeks of the pandemic that I think being small and scrappy was an advantage. Most of those ‘giants’ don’t make products here in the USA, making it much harder for them to pivot to masks. Without pivoting to masks I believe we would have closed down the business. We are self-funded with zero investment and never would have survived.
Wow. How big a part of the business did masks become?
It was a huge part of our business from April through July. I never envisioned making masks before but here we are. On April 1st, I spoke with some of my LA factories to see if we could work together on becoming an essential business and stay open by making masks. We have since donated thousands of masks to the frontline workers and other essential businesses. We started selling the masks through our website which helped keep our factories