Aion, handmade headwear and apparel
Store: 960 Alpine Lane, Jackson, Wyoming
When Michael Massie launched Aion last February, he could have hired a large corporate manufacturer in China to sew his surf and ski apparel. That would have made things easy. Instead, Massie, who lives in Jackson, Wyoming, decided to partner with a women's shelter in Kathmandu, Nepal, that was interested in job skills training.
For Massie, 40, personal profit isn't the only goal. He makes money, sure, but creating economic opportunities for others has always been a central part of his company's objective. Part of it is his personal conviction—that's just who he is—and part of it revolves around the ethos of the outdoor communities he caters to in his role. The people wearing his clothing are out enjoying life, so he felt the same should be said for the people whose job it was to make them.
"I wanted to feel good about the clothing and the business," says Massie, who spent years working with other outdoor brands OP, TGR, and Billabong before founding Aion.
Today, about a year into the business, two mom-and-pop shops on the Indonesian island of Bali make most of the company's clothing. A friend from the fashion industry turned him onto these shops as the business grew out of Kathmandu, and Massie partnered with them because they have a strong reputation for fair labor conditions and profit-sharing with the workers.
To set up the relationship, Massie flew out and personally sat down with the owners. Some of Aion’s apparel requires special machines for manufacturing, so he bought thousands of dollars worth of equipment, which the companies were free to use for other jobs as well. He liked that the workers controlled their own schedules—they often took naps and long lunch breaks—and saw that they took pride in their work.
"They aren't just workers, they're craftsman," he says.
Most of the employees are young and have young families, so reliable jobs are important. It's also a family friendly environment where the kids run around and play while the parents work on the clothing.
Over several months, Massie has grown close with one shop owner in particular, Medi Marthiadi, who Massie stays in constant touch with throughout the year. Marthiadi started working in the apparel business 13 years ago and he has worked with other outdoor brands, including Roxy and Deus ex Machina. Marthiadi says he was happy to partner with Massie because he saw that Aion’s business strategy valued job creation as much as making money.
"We share with Aion that social profit more important than economic profit," Marthiadi said via e-mail.
Beanies were the first product—and they're still a core item—but nowadays the line also include caps, shirts, and hoodies. Each piece of clothing made by the workers in Indonesia comes with a hang tag that they've signed so consumers know exactly where it came from, and Massie also tries to source as much raw material as he can from Indonesia as another way to support the economy. At this point, most of the sales are online, but Aion also has a brick-and-mortar store in Jackson and distributes clothing in a couple small stores in California.
From here Massie says he only plans to grow and hopes to create more economic opportunities. This summer, for example, he's traveling to Sumba, another Indonesian island, to see if Aion can start working with a different set of small manufacturers. Back home, the company will also be manufacturing beanies in Jackson to create jobs.
"We're always looking to push sustainable business," he says. "And we always look forward to new opportunities."