How Designers Coco & Breezy Started Their Business With Only $1,000

While many know them for their magnetic social media presence and eponymous eyewear company, the cumulative accomplishments of designing duo Corianna and Brianna Dotson, or "Coco and Breezy," actually span several industries. Yes, at 30, the sisters have established themselves in fashion, music, and real estate. Not too bad considering just over a decade ago they arrived in NYC from Apple Valley, Minnesota with less than $1,000 between them.

“A lot of people are uncomfortable to be uncomfortable,” says Breezy, in an interview with The Zoe Report. “I think, in the fashion world, people always want the latest things and put on a front of a lifestyle that they don’t actually live. That’s something that Coco and I never got caught up in. We were very frugal [when we first arrived in NYC]. When you’re starting a business, every dollar counts.” Coco seconds this notion, recalling, “dollar pizza for lunch, bagel from the corner store for breakfast. If we went out to eat with friends, we’d get one meal and split that.”

Upon their arrival to NYC, the 19-year-old twins had amassed a solid MySpace following (remember MySpace?), thanks to their fresh and unique approach to fashion that included their signature bedazzled DIY sunglasses. “That actually is what made us want to start a business,” says Coco. “We were like, ‘Wow, we’re 17 with 50,000 followers on MySpace. How do we use this to create an actual company and product?” Although the two were widely recognized in their hometown as “the MySpace twins” (which they hated), the two wanted success that extended passed the world wide web. “We didn’t want to be internet famous,” says Coco.

Fair enough, but, in the beginning, it was actually their social media presence that helped them hit the business ground running. That, and the fact that they were walking advertisements for their brand. "We’d get stopped by people saying, ‘I’m so-and-so’s stylist, where did you get your glasses from?’" recalls Coco. Before they knew it, the duo found themselves creating sunglasses on a blow-up mattress in their tiny Brooklyn apartment for the likes of Kelly Osbourne, Lady Gaga, and Nicki Minaj.

"When I think about those days I think we were able to succeed because we never got caught up in the New York FOMO and fashion scene," says Breezy. "We couldn’t ask Mom and Dad for a couple hundred thousand to start our business. A lot of our peers would have a business ideas, but were spending money on clothes and going out to dinner and getting drinks — but our first year we were very frugal and focused on using our money to grow the business."

And grow it did. More than 10 years after its inception, the Coco and Breezy eyewear label has developed quite the following and has included collaborations with Hershey's, Ciroc, SIX:02, and the late Prince, for which the designers created a "third-eye" style (more about their experience with the music legend later).

In addition to their fashion brand, the sisters also have established themselves in the music industry as DJs and producers (their new single 'Convo" drops June 26), as well as real estate moguls with their Catskill Mountains retreat The Lorca and, most recently, hosts of the Coco and Breezy podcasts (by Fueled By Culture), which launched June 16.

While each venture may seem like a separate entity, according to the sisters, they all tie into the Coco and Breezy brand and mission statement, which is to bring different communities together. "If you think about it, everything we're doing is all about healing," says Breezy. "For eyewear, we're protecting the eyes. With the real estate property, we're giving you a space to be in nature to meditate and recharge. Our music, and our new single, that's another type of healing tool where music is the key to the soul. It all tells one story."

Ahead, the sisters, tell another story — theirs. From enduring bullying as children to navigating the notoriously racist waters of the fashion industry, Coco and Breezy (who are half Black, half Puerto Rican) leave no stone unturned. "Of course, it wasn’t an easy road at all, it was very bumpy," says Breezy. "But we were up for the journey.”

Tell me about your upbringing in Minnesota and how it shaped the women you are now?

Breezy Dotson: We were actually born in Indiana and lived in the projects for a little bit. Our parents then moved us to Memphis, which was still kinda like the hood. From there, we moved to Minnesota when we were about seven — which was a culture shock. We were like two of four Black kids in the entire school. So, we went from going to an all-Black school in the South to an environment where we stuck out like sore thumbs. We definitely dealt with racism there, and with everything going on right now, we’re still unpacking that.

Like, in high school, we'd see the Confederate flag on pick-up trucks, people writing ‘I Hate N-word’ in the bathrooms, people coming to school talking about their family being in the KKK and active white supremacists. This was so normal to us — being scared, being judged. Going to the grocery store and being followed and watched. This was our everyday life. And, on top of being Black, once we started to find our own eclectic style, we got bullied.

Coco Dotson: I think our parents empowered us early. Our dad encouraged us to think about starting a business and using our creativity to turn it into something. And he always kept us educated on Black history. Both of our parents [grew up] not having their own sources being free [to express themselves], so they decided they would let their children try and do what they wanted to do. That helped us be who we are today.

I read recently that the bullying you experienced as children actually led to your love for sunglasses and eyewear. Tell me about that.

Breezy Dotson: We were inspired by punk as kids, and our parents gave us the freedom to wear our hair however we wanted or have piercings. But, [because of this] there were people who threatened to jump us and, with MySpace being popular at the time, cyberbully us. From the outside, we looked very confident, but on the inside, we were torn to pieces. So, we would buy cheap sunglasses, to cover our eyes and avoid eye contact with people. And that’s how we found our love for eyewear.

We’ve always been very DIY, and when we made our first DIY sunglasses, we posted them on MySpace and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh, where can I buy those?’ And it’s amazing that something that started off as a shield of protection for our confidence became the inspiration of our company.

Who were some of your earliest style influences?

Coco Dotson: Our mom! She was our only style influence. I think about the little hot-girl outfits I like to wear now at 30, and that was our mom when we were growing up. I remember she had this long, white Wilson’s leather jacket and she wore this baby-blue one-piece legging outfit underneath with over-the-knee boots. She finally gave me that jacket like two years ago.

Breezy: The reason we wear so many accessories is because of our mom. She raised us on, ‘Don’t leave the house without earrings.’

Is it true you two made the move from Minnesota to New York City with $1,000 between you?

Breezy Dotson: Coco and I have been financially on our own since we were 15. We got our first jobs at 15 and by the time we were 16, we had two jobs each and by the time we were 17, we worked three jobs each. Since we come from humble beginnings, in our heads, saving up $500 each was a lot! We were like, ‘We’re totally moving to New York. We have $1,000 together — we’re good!’

Tell me about some of the challenges you faced early on in launching your eyewear company, particularly in the fashion industry, which is infamous for its lack of inclusivity.

Breezy Dotson: There’s definitely an ignorance within fashion magazines. If [something is related to or aligned with Black culture] it is called ‘urban.’ Because we feature Black or brown models [in our marketing], people would say, ‘Well, your product is too urban for us.’ The Essences and the Ebonys always supported our brand, but the Vogues and the Glamours and the Cosmos didn’t.

It wasn’t until a PR friend of ours used her white privilege in a beautiful way to reach out to those magazines. When we reached out, we were 'too urban,' but when she reached out she demanded for people to cover us, pointing out the lack of Black and brown brands they were showcasing. I’ll never forget it — that’s what opened us up in the fashion world.

Our whole lives, we've been shopping for beauty products, cleaning supplies, clothing, and we never see Black or brown people in advertising. So, our goal is to be the brand that showcases the people who never get showcased. We want to teach white people to unlearn these advertising habits.

Coco Dotson: We want to show people that, when you shop, if the advertisement showcases Black or brown people, that doesn't mean the product is only for Black or brown people.

Breezy Dotson: We're actually partnering with Showfields and curating a Black-owned space and showcasing 20 Black designers or founders. We want non-Black people to understand that just because it's Black-owned and they're telling Black stories, it doesn't mean it's not for you. It's made by a human and the product is bomb as f*ck.

As models and influencers, you've also had the opportunity to see another side of the fashion industry. Tell me about that.

Coco Dotson: We've had so many experiences in which someone was trying to do our hair and didn't know what they were doing. They're trying to do our hair the way they're doing the white girl's hair. And it's like, 'No, Breezy has locs and Coco has a fro — how come you don't have a loctician on set when you knew you had talent with locs?'

People are getting booked based on relationships, but if you can't do natural hair, stop taking the job. Point blank. You're taking the job from somebody who needs the money, needs the resource, and is amazing at doing it right.

Have you had mentors in your careers as business owners?

Breezy Dotson: Yes, our mentor's name is Sharifa [Murdock, co-founder of career and personal development platform ENVSN Festival and men's fashion and lifestyle trade show Liberty Fairs], and she's a very powerful Black woman. She's awesome. She was very hard on us, but she's also so loving. When we started our company and were still DIY, she was with PROJECT [Fashion Events] at the time. And she said, 'You guys need to stop doing DIY. Figure out how to manufacture glasses, and I'll give you a booth for free.'

Years later, she saw us doing all this influencer work, and she told us, 'Save your money and buy a house. Own property.' And now we're co-owners of a property called The Lorca and we were motivated to do that because she pushed us.

Speaking of property, let's talk about The Lorca. It's in the Catskills, right?

Coco Dotson: Yes! [The property consists of] five houses, and they're all designed super minimally, really hip, and contemporary. They're short-term rentals and are currently booked out until September. It's been a really fun project.

You’ve made your mark on three very different industries: music, fashion, and real estate. How has your experience in entering these spaces differed from each other?

Coco Dotson: Well, we started being entrepreneurs at 19, when we launched our eyewear company. So, it was a little challenging at first because people would look at our age and style — we're not ones to go into business meetings with suits on. We would prep ourselves before, expecting to be pre-judged. But, we got to a point where we finally just let our guards down and didn't care if they did. We were like, 'Let's just live our truths and be us, and go into this meeting and kill it.' Then, we started killing it.

Also, there's a lot of racism in the eyewear industry — it's filled with white men mostly. We've had people tell us 'You have too many Black and brown models in your marketing materials.' And, for us, it's our duty and job to show representation because a lot of brands aren't.

Breezy Dotson: On the music side of things, it's so interesting that as Black women who produce house music, people will ask us things like, 'Oh, you guys make ratchet music?' or 'Are you guys hip-hop DJs?' They ask us that because we're Black, and it's the ignorance of not understanding where house music and dance music came from. Dance music and house music was created by Black and brown people. So, it's a big issue that there's a lack of representation of Black people in dance music. I'm expecting for that to shift and change, but there's people in leadership that need to step down for that to change.

Coco Dotson: As for real estate, that's been fun. The property is in the Catskills [and there's a lot of Trump supporters there], so I sometimes worry that people will see me and think I'm intruding. There have been times when we were profiled up there. But, overall, it's been fun and exciting to own property.

Tell me about your podcast. What made you want to step into this medium at this point in your career?

Coco Dotson: A lot of people know us based on the interviews we’ve done online, but we never had a platform to fully talk about our life experiences. That’s why we went with the title ‘Coco & Breezy Podcast,’ because we didn’t want to be stuck on one topic. We might want to talk about relationships one day or we might want to talk about systemic racism the next.

Breezy Dotson: We know we’re in a position of influence, so it’s important for us to show people how it’s really done as opposed to what you see on Instagram and social media. It’s very important for us to be transparent about our everyday lives, the realness of entrepreneurship, and our perspective on what’s going on in life.

What can we expect in terms of topics and guests?

Coco Dotson: We were actually supposed to launch the podcast two weeks before [the June 16 premiere], then everything with Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd death happened. We felt so uncomfortable launching a podcast with the first episode being on entrepreneurship and other topics that had nothing to do with action or what was going on [in real time]. At the last-minute, we made some new episodes around conversations that are needed right now. So, our first episode featured one of our best friends who we’ve known since middle school — she’s from Minnesota. So, we talked about her experience with everything that’s going on there.

How do your respective aesthetics differ, and how do they each play into your brand, particularly the eyewear label?

Coco Dotson: We always say that we're kind of like a girl band. Our style gives you like Destiny's Child vibes because we don't like to dress alike, but we definitely coordinate, especially when we do our shows and are DJ-ing. Breezy will typically wear the more tomboy version of our outfit and I'm more like, 'let me show some leg and a little bit of stomach and wear a high heel.' And that's the fun part of it — we both can wear the same outfit, but somehow I'm gonna turn it into my personal style and Breezy will turn it into hers.

You’ve created sunglasses for everybody from Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to Rihanna and Prince. What’s been your favorite design or collab over the years? Is there anyone you haven’t designed for that you’d like to?

Coco Dotson: Prince for sure [has been the most exciting to work with]. We spent so much time with him that I can honestly say he was our friend. I would say, in terms of collaborations, I want to work with Rihanna.

Rihanna is someone who started wearing our glasses early on. We didn't even give them to her. She bought them from a store or someone gave them to her, and she started wearing our glasses hard. She's been following us on Instagram, and we just met her in-person for the first time like four months ago. If a Coco and Breezy/Fenty collaboration happened, that would be a dream.