BusinessLiving the Fuck Out LoudWe See You
coco and breezy discuss matters of visibility
July 25, 2019
One day in a Minnesota suburb in the early 00s, seventh graders Corianna and Brianna Dotson (now known as Coco and Breezy) were strategizing on how to ask their mom if they could get nose rings. The only girls of color in their middle school (mom is Puerto Rican, dad is African-American), Corianna and Brianna were used to standing out from their white classmates. The twins’ coily manes, funky outfits, and points of view all screamed, “non-conformist.”
“Our mom was like, ‘Sure!’” recalls Breezy, now 27. “The piercing shop said you were too young, but I’ll help you,” added mom. “Bet!” thought the girls. Later in ninth grade, their mom saw a woman with a Monroe piercing and was like, “That would look cute on you girls” so they got additional piercings. With a mom who allowed them that much personal creative expression, how would they ever turn out basic?
Fueled by their love of style, Coco and Breezy began buying safety goggles and gluing studs on them while still in high school. At first, it was a hobby to accessorize their funky looks, but then, “We put them on Myspace and everybody was like, ‘Yeah!'” From mom’s living room — where so many ideas were hatched —the twins dreamed up a new life in New York City. On Myspace, they hit up model Shaun Ross — they had seen him in a magazine and thought, “he should be our friend” — who encouraged the then-19-year-olds to move to New York City.
Soon after, thanks to their proximity to the cool kids, their glasses were being worn by the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé, and in 2014, by Prince on an episode of Saturday Night Live. Ten years after starting their company, Coco and Breezy have flipped their passion for accessorizing into an optical line that’s available at over 400 retailers. They spoke to AFROPUNK about disrupting a space traditionally dominated by white men, their multi-hyphenate identities, and why, like their eyewear’s tagline, “visibility matters.”
You refuse to be pigeonholed. Most people know you as DJs, models, social media “It” girls, and such. We know you as businesswomen and owners of an optical line. You’re two young Black women in an industry that is dominated by white men. The most basic question, really, is what is that like?
Coco: Yeah, few people know that about us. We don’t put everything on social media. I think we are the first Black women to enter into the optical industry as founders. There are a lot of people that are buying wholesale glasses and putting their logos on them — a lot of [Instagram brands] do that. We’re designing everything in house.
Breezy: In the beginning, it was difficult for us because the eyewear optical industry is very white male-driven. We’re the first women of color to have a booth at the Vision Expo [trade show]. It took people a long time to take us seriously. Back in the day, we started off buying safety goggles and gluing studs and spikes on them. Eventually, we created a small collection. We would talk to people about our brand and no [retailer] would take us into their stores. They didn’t get it. Fast forward, the optical industry loves our brand. For one, we feel like it’s our duty as Black women to show representation in our marketing. When you go into all these optical shops that our people go into, they can’t see themselves in the campaigns. We make sure we have our people in the campaigns. We’ve actually had stores have the audacity to ask us to put Caucasian people in our campaigns. We just tell them, “Then take us out of your store.”
Now it’s been 10 years since you started your company – and you’re only 27. What’s the grand future vision?
Breezy: I can’t wait to say that our company is on track to be a multimillion dollar, or rather, a billion-dollar company.
Coco: Or even go public or get acquired…
Breezy: Yeah, go public or get acquired and use those funds to invest in people who have ideas but don’t have access or funds. We’re building a world where everyone is invited. We also just bought property in upstate New York. We are partners on a property of four houses on three acres of land. We’re super excited about that – just imagine, our mom and dad never bought a house before. We want to create a retreat upstate and bring our people up there because we need nature.
You’re now in the VC funding phase. What’s that like?
Coco: It’s scary. Two years ago, Breezy and I made an executive decision: We said, we need to build our community of friends in this VC world. We didn’t know anybody in that world. You have to build out if you aren’t around people that are going to help you grow. We would go to meet-ups, talks, tech events, conferences and then we started building and being part of that community.
Breezy: We now have a community of people giving us advice. I think that it was a fear of not knowing how to do it that gave us pause. We had to step back to be like, hold on, when we started this company we didn’t know what we were doing, why are we being afraid now? I had to put my mindset on it to be like, it’s okay if I don’t know, figure it out on the way, everything else will fall into place.
Coco: I’m nervous and excited. I’ve been dreaming about the press headline: ‘Coco and Breezy Eyewear just raised $1.5 million and they are on track to be one of the biggest eyewear companies.’
There are a couple more zeroes in your account now. Are you comfortable with money?
Breezy: Coco and I had heavy responsibilities at a young age. Even now we take care of our dad full-time. He’s a double amputee. We’re not out here trying to buy designer clothes or jewelry because we know that if I can’t pay my rent, we don’t have anyone in our family to ask. Our mindset is how can we grow wealth? We look at the bigger picture. I think that’s something that we educate our friends on in this art community.
You two are those like consummate multi-hyphenate: DJs, designers, directors, models. When did you get comfortable with having so many creative expressions?
Coco: I’m still not — it depends who I’m talking to.
Breezy: I think we need to get out of that un-comfortability. I always bring Diddy or Beyoncé up as an example. When Diddy is like, “I rap, I have a music label…” Everyone’s like, “Dude, you’re the jam,” but then when people are like, “You guys have an eyewear company, you do music and you guys directed 12 Disney music videos that no one knows about because we didn’t mind telling anybody?” They’re like, “How do you do it? Where do you put more time?” We’re just highly organized and have a vision for ourselves and the story we want to tell-
Coco: If we’re going to tell our story through different mediums, it’s all the same thing. There’s nothing that’s more important. We’re adding music, directing, brand partnerships, real estate — we’re adding! Bring the hyphens on. I think the reason it works for us is that we’re telling the same story on all these different platforms.
The Internet played a huge part in your growth story. Let’s talk about the idea of being disruptors and finding your community on the Internet.
Breezy: Coco and I grew up in an environment where weren’t accepted and we had to remember it’s not us, it’s them. We started dressing really cool and taking cool photos. We had blue hair, pink hair. We went on MySpace. On the Internet, people were like, “You guys are so cool.” We started building a huge following and that’s when… we get emotional because we just never had a community. We had MySpace friends. [Model] Shaun Ross is why we moved to New York City. Shaun, Miguel, SZA; we all met on Myspace!
Let’s talk about beauty. The idea of being beautiful and accepting that and celebrating. When did you get to the part where you’re accepting of your beauty?
Coco: This year. We had insecurity issues for life for a long time.
Breezy: You know what it is, I think that our energy and our confidence is exuding finally.
So the confidence that we saw all these years, you didn’t see?
Breezy: We didn’t see it. Again, from childhood trauma and being bullied. I think this year we really had our glow up of actually feeling confident…
Coco: And feeling beautiful. Even if on the outside someone thought it looked beautiful, we didn’t feel it.
Breezy: Now we’re doing it up though, Coco.
Coco: Yeah. Now we do it up!
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