“How do you spell entrepreneur?”
Brianna Dotson asked her teacher this question in grade three. She and her twin sister Corianna had a sense even then that they would change the world someday. And they were right—they launched their eyewear brand Coco and Breezy when they were only 19, and have been building successful businesses ever since. But that’s the short version of the story. Here’s how it all really happened.
Corianna and Brianna became Coco and Breezy when they were newborns, nicknames coined by their parents that have stuck ever since. But growing up in the suburbs of Apple Valley, Minnesota, other kids taunted them for having “ghetto” names. Being the only two kids of color in their school, they were bullied for being different.
So they channeled that anger into creative expression, turning to DIY projects. They discovered a fashion show in their state and decided to enter, customizing their clothes with a sewing machine to create a collection for the local runway. The clothes turned out great—but they needed accessories. And the household item they found for those accessories would change their lives forever.
The kind you’d wear to protect your eyes in a workshop, the big ones. They found a pair sitting around and decorated them with studs from a belt, chains, and gemstones. At the fashion show, those glasses were the star of the show. And, turns out, their custom eyewear was far more powerful than the compliments alone.
“When we started wearing them, they made us feel so empowered,” Coco says in an interview in their sixth-floor Manhattan eyewear showroom, sipping an oat milk matcha latte on a green velvet couch in front of a peachy wall proudly bearing their namesakes, Coco and Breezy.
“It felt like, ‘this is a level of confidence we’ve never had because now we don’t have to stare at the people who are staring at us.’ It was a shield of protection,” Coco says. “When we put them on, you couldn’t tell us nothing. We were on our own planet.”
Cha-ching: Making their first sales
Coco and Breezy found other ways to escape their small town, too. They launched a MySpace page when they were 17 and grew an audience of more than 50,000 people to whom they’d share videos of themselves working three jobs each, 80-90 hours per week. “We’re going to move to New York one day,” they told their followers, wearing their signature glasses.
(The reason for those long work hours: the twins have been financially independent since age 15 when their father fell ill and was unable to work. That’s when the girls began to contribute financially to their household. “Our parents supported us creatively and with love, but they couldn’t necessarily support us financially,” Breezy says.)
It wasn’t only their jobs that earned them money. The twins quickly learned that their MySpace audience wanted those glasses. And so Coco figured out how to add PayPal to their page, selling their glasses for $200 each. This was back in 2005, when most people didn’t even know what ecommerce was yet. But these small-town teenagers knew how to monetize their skills from the start. Coco and Breezy were influencers before there were influencers.
“Once we got some traction and people were loving what we were wearing, we were like, bingo. This is the business,” says Breezy of those fated safety glasses.
That “bingo” moment finally led them to New York City in 2009 when they were 19. Like so many before them, they moved to pursue their dreams even if it meant living in a small, three-bedroom Bushwick apartment they shared with four others, two to a room. Coco and Breezy’s room had no windows; it was meant to be a closet; they slept on an air mattress. They each had $500 to contribute to their new eyewear company, the office of which was in their kitchen.
“But guess who were the happiest girls alive?” Coco says. “Us. Cause we were there in freakin’ New York. That’s all that matters. An important part of entrepreneurship is that you have to understand it’s a process. You have to appreciate all those moments, you have to appreciate every stepping stone.”
“An important part of entrepreneurship is that you have to understand it’s a process. You have to appreciate all those moments, you have to appreciate every stepping stone.”
And it wasn’t long before things took off. Pop artist Ashanti chose to wear Coco and Breezy to the Hip Hop Honors Awards, followed closely by Kelly Osbourne on Good Morning America and Dancing With the Stars. This was only weeks after moving to New York. Soon after, Prince asked them to design three-lensed glasses to, you know, cover his third eye, a request that led to an iconic Coco and Breezy product and a bond between them all for the rest of Prince’s life.
“It was so affirmative to be like, ‘Wow. We’re doing something,’” Breezy recalls.
Making ends meet as entrepreneurs
Every entrepreneur knows that success is an intangible recipe of varying ingredients often including luck, skill, and timing. Coco and Breezy believe something more spiritual is at play too.
In their earliest days in New York City, when they weren’t sure how they would pay rent, they’d be walking down the street and someone would say, “I love your glasses! How much?” From these impromptu sidewalk encounters, the sisters made their first in-person sales—and secured their first six months of rent.
Some would call this luck. Breezy calls those early purchasers guardian angels, helping them survive in their hardest financial times, paying for their father’s care and bills while supporting themselves in a city unkind to sparse wallets. This guardian angel belief returned at another pinnacle moment of their careers, when they decided that their eyewear company alone would not define them as entrepreneurs.
There would be music in their lives too.
Starting a second business
Music has always played a special role in Coco and Breezy’s lives. Their Puerto Rican mom would play the congas at family events while others chimed in with whatever instruments they could find, the percussion punctuating their celebrations. Their parents listened to R&B, blues, a little bit of everything and the girls grew up dancing to all of it. Music was something they turned to in good times and bad.
“We would have little dance parties when we were working from home in our little-ass apartment, we’d just tear it up in the kitchen real quick.”
“That’s how I would get out of times when I would feel down about an entrepreneur thing. I would just throw on a song,” says Breezy. “And we would have little dance parties when we were working from home in our little-ass apartment, we’d just tear it up in the kitchen real quick.”
This love of music grew into a passion for DJing. Both Coco and Breezy knew they wanted to branch out here, but were mindful that they needed to build a strong foundation with their eyewear brand first.
“I knew we could do multiple things, but it’s challenging to put only 40% of yourself into something that’s not 100% yet,” Coco says. So they built their eyewear empire sale by sale, graduating from their kitchen to a showroom—the first time they’d ever entered a corporate office; the first in their family line to start a business like this. Their father grew up during segregation, their grandmother picked cotton in the fields. But Coco and Breezy reported to no one but themselves, breaking the “generational curses,” as they put it.
Behind the scenes, they dreamt of becoming DJs. And then one day, an email arrived.
“I want Coco and Breezy to DJ,” it read. Which was strange, says Coco, because “there was nothing about us having an interest in DJing on the internet. That was something we kept to ourselves. So we were like, ‘Let’s do it. It’s our time now.’”
They called up their DJ friend Martina McFlyy for a crash course in DJing, performed their first gig, and started learning how to be real DJs every spare moment they had. They found a bar nearby with a DJ booth and they’d play for free all night, every night they could.
“It was our job and our duty to make sure we knew that technical side, to understand the art of DJing and music and producing,” says Breezy. “That way, no one could say shit, because we were going to be great at it.”
Since then, they’ve become DJs with tracks likeConvo and U., doing sets whenever they can while splitting their time between NYC and LA (the bicoastal life was a COVID change, which also includes a new puppy named Isis).
The fake palm tree in their Manhattan showroom is perhaps now a reminder of their West Coast second home. It sits amongst glasses, glasses everywhere; a 3D printer for experimentation with new frame designs; desks for sketching, dreaming, and working hard.
Some people were quick to judge Coco and Breezy’s decision to focus on more than one business venture—especially when they also bought property in the Catskills and launched a retreat resort called The Lorca.
“Being women and women of color, I feel like we’re in this space of entrepreneurship where people are like, ‘You should only do this one thing,’” Breezy says.
“But that’s because they can’t do it,” Coco adds. “So in their head, they’re just putting their ways onto you, their fear of like, ‘How are you able to manage all of this?’ But just because you can’t do it, don’t put that shit on me. I put my heart and soul into all of this.”
They’ve learned how to divide their time between their ventures.
“The number one skill you have to have when you are multifaceted and have multiple businesses is understanding how to delegate and knowing how to articulate what you want,” Breezy says.
“The number one skill you have to have when you are multifaceted and have multiple businesses is understanding how to delegate and knowing how to articulate what you want.”
Since you can’t do it all yourself, you need to learn to verbalize exactly what you need so that your team can execute it for you.
“You need to put your ego down,” she says. “A lot of times people want to be the best at everything, but that’s impossible.”
Claiming the title of “entrepreneur”
Many business owners don’t identify with the term “entrepreneur.” Coco and Breezy, on the other hand, have been claiming the title ever since they learned the word.
“We’re snatching it up,” Breezy says. “We’re just as important as the people in Silicon Valley. When we were younger, we didn’t have Black women that looked like us, with natural hair and piercings, with tattoos who wore leather to work, and it’s important. It’s our duty to show that entrepreneurship isn’t just a certain type of way.
“That way, other young Black girls that are looking at entrepreneurs, they can look at us and see themselves in somebody and be like, ‘Oh wait, she’s wearing her Afro? She has piercings and tattoos? I can be an entrepreneur?’ It’s not just a white man in a suit.”
And so they both proudly claim the title of entrepreneur, to show that there is no single way to be one.
So what other passions are the twins yet to pursue?
“It’s my dream to be a superhero in a movie,” Breezy says, and Coco agrees, their knees brushing against one another on the green couch, never interrupting each other, each giving the other time to speak, not completing each other’s sentences as the twin cliché would dictate. They’ve previously mentioned that they believe someday, someone will write a book about them, and it will turn into a movie.
“Or a cartoon character that models the story behind our story,” Breezy adds. “There’s not a lot of inspiring cartoons you see of young Black girls that don’t make a mockery of our culture. You don’t see a Black girl running a company. And so I think I’m going to manifest it. Some young Black twins who wanted to start a business, who didn’t come from a lot. Who started a billion dollar company, who were the biggest DJs—I’m manifesting my life and it’s going to be able to inspire other young kids.”
If what Coco and Breezy have already been able to manifest are any indication, that cartoon will be soon coming to a screen near you.
Coco and Breezy’s financial advice: Buy property
“As black women, it’s important for us to own property, because we’ve been deprived of home ownership,” Coco says.
Even if it’s not financially possible on your own, band together with friends and invest together. That’s what Coco and Breezy did with two partners. Their property in the Catskills includes five houses, and they’ve now expanded to a property in the Adirondacks as well.
Where did the money come from to purchase the land?
“We do a lot of influencer work,” Coco says. “That’s easy, big money. We did a Pandora campaign, and a Tommy Hilfiger campaign, maybe one more, and we acted like we didn’t see that money. We just put that towards buying our first property, instead of buying designer.
“I want to tell all the young people that are making influencer money: save your money and buy property or invest it in something. Don’t spend all your money on material things.”
Coco’s advice for entrepreneurs
“One thing I’ve learned is that to be a CEO, you don’t need to know everything. And I think that’s often what stops people from starting companies, because they feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, if I want to be a CEO or founder, I need to know everything.’
“But guess what? You’re the person with the big ideas. You’re the person that’s driving and leading your team. You’re the person who’s going to do the research for what you don’t know. (Entrepreneur) Ben Horwitz taught me that, and it changed my whole life.
“I don’t need to know everything. I will be open-minded to learn what I don’t know. But I’m not going to stop myself because I feel insecure about walking into a room not knowing certain things.”
Breezy’s advice for entrepreneurs
“Starting a company and being an entrepreneur isn’t for everybody. And failure is okay. You have to try something out before you assume it will or won’t work. I think a lot of times as entrepreneurs and creators, we get so stuck on this one idea, and it’s okay to have a vision, but it’s also okay to have a little wiggle room and be able to pivot. As long as it’s coming from the heart, and that pivot is going to be true to yourself.”
Finding their unique identities
Getting bullied growing up, Coco and Breezy became inseparable—they were often each other’s only friend. And that showed up when they started their business too: they shared an email address, would answer emails together, would walk to the mail together to ship a package.
But they realized they weren’t going to grow if they were both doing the same things. So they took a hard look at themselves. Who was Corianna? Who was Brianna? Not Coco and Breezy; that part was easy. But who were they individually? That led to Breezy identifying as the creative rock-star risk-taker who leads design, and Coco as the self-proclaimed “mom” who focuses on marketing and operational growth.
Now that the two realize how different they are, it’s much easier to divide and conquer.
“Our duality together works great because we’re different,” Coco says. “We’re like the ying and the yang.”
This piece originally appeared in the print edition of Shopify Magazine. Photography by Kristina Dittmar.