In partnership with Dolce Vita, we’re bringing you a new series that takes a deeper look into some of the women we admire who embody the OKREAL and Dolce Vita spirit. We are proud to share the stories of those we feel are making a difference in the world, shaping our communities, and following their passion. We ask them what it means to #holdyourown in a competitive world, and they show us what it looks like to #walkthisway.
Twin sisters Corianna and Brianna Dotson are the founders of eyewear label: Coco and Breezy Eyewear (nicknames they are most commonly known by). Do you remember the ‘third-eye’ glasses worn by the late icon Prince? Those were custom-made by Coco & Breezy. Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Serena Williams also wear the brand. Did I mention the sisters are only 27-years-young? For such impressive success you would assume outrageous millennial confidence—but Coco and Breezy have something even more powerful to accredit their accomplishments to: humility and hard work. The catalyst for creating eyewear was because the girls were bullied at school: they were incredibly shy, and struggled making eye contact with people. Speaking with them in person, they now have a quiet confidence rooted in sincerity and experience. The Minnesota-born sisters have come into their own, are raising their first round of capital, DJ-ing on the side, and in their own words, ‘creating a culture.’
Breezy: We were both creative from a young age. Our parents really encouraged us to express our style and our individuality, and I think that has a lot to do with the way we are now.
Coco: Before starting Coco & Breezy we were always hustling. Whether it was running lemonade stands, having dance competitions to win money, or having three jobs at 17-years-old to pay our bills. When everyone else was at prom, we were covering people’s work shifts. I don’t think we ever went to a high school dance because we were always working.
Breezy: Our work ethic really kicked in around 14-years-old when our dad got sick. He went from having a good job to not being able to work regularly, so Coco and I got our first jobs at 15 to help him pay his rent.
Coco: At the same time our dad got sick, our mom decided to go back to college. So it was up to me and Breezy to hold it down.
Breezy: By the time we were 16 we had two jobs each, and by the time we were 17, we had three jobs each.
Coco: When we started our company at 19-years-old, we didn’t really have a plan. We were young and ambitious and we decided to go New York and start an eyewear line. We had a following online and people had already bought into the brand, which was really just us and our story. Once we got here, we thought—hold on, we actually have something here.
Breezy: While we had worked for other people since we were teenagers, when we arrived in New York we decided that we weren’t going to work for anyone else, and instead, focus solely on building our business—which meant a lot of sacrifices. I think that if we had wanted to live in luxury, we could have grown our business on the side while we worked full-time somewhere else. But we decided against that. So we were OK with our first room being the size of an air mattress, with said air mattresses deflating to the ground. Our second apartment was slightly bigger but we still shared a futon. We also worked from our bedroom, so there would be spikes and studs everywhere. We’d take turns—one of us would sleep and the other would work. Our third apartment was an upgrade with our own rooms and an office to work from. And as of this month, we live in a super cute apartment with amenities. But it took us almost eight years to get here. If you’re starting a business, getting a nice apartment should not be your first priority. You should be putting your money into marketing, product, whatever is going to grow your business—and be OK with the sacrifice.
Coco: One of the most important choices that we’ve made was during a huge period of downtime. At that time, our brand looked great on paper—we had great press—but we were struggling. We had to sit back and figure out what we were doing wrong. When things are moving so fast it’s hard to take the time to reflect—but reflection is what helps you with your pivots. We had to re-establish our priorities, and recognize that something we might have been doing five years ago was no longer working. We realized that we had been saying yes to everything and were spreading ourselves too thin. In the beginning, we had to do that in order for people to become familiar with our brand. But once the company is up and running, you actually have to run it. Deciding to say no when we needed to and re-focusing was a huge turning point for us. We saw results immediately—the following month was the biggest we’d had. Now we’ve found a way where we can still run our company and say yes to the things that are going to help us grow as humans, help our friends out, or help the company out. But figuring that out was difficult.
Coco: I also think there’s been a shift in how we carry ourselves. When we first started the company, Breezy and I were insecure about our attire going to corporate meetings. Being both young and women of color, we would often get stereotyped. At one particular meeting, I’ll never forget someone looking at us and saying, ‘You must not be here for this meeting.’ And we had to tell them we had a meeting with their CEO. In moments like that, you start to think, do we hold our own or do we say, ‘F it?’ I don’t believe that people should be judged by what they’re wearing: your clothes have nothing to do with how smart you are. Now when I walk into a room I feel comfortable being myself, but that was challenging in the beginning.
Breezy: If you’re not confident with yourself, how can you expect other people to be confident in you? Coco and I weren’t confident within ourselves and that’s why we started designing eyewear—because it was so hard for us to make eye contact with people. We grew up being bullied and used to be so shy—but I think that we made a negative into a positive. We turned it into a business. While we’re growing a company, we’re growing as women as well. We’ve now reached a point where we’re confident within ourselves, and I believe that people can see that confidence. I think holding your own is having that confidence and being independent—but also not being afraid to ask for help. I think, particularly as a woman, it means to love yourself before loving someone else.
Breezy: You have to know your worth. It sounds really cliché but it’s something that we tell ourselves every single day. It relates back to learning how to say no: when you’re a busy person and someone presents you with an opportunity, you have to assess whether it lines up with your priorities, and whether it’s worth your time and energy.
Coco: You have to consider two things—What’s the actual goal? And, is this worth my time? Sometimes you have to turn down money if it’s not part of your ultimate goal, because it’s still your time. Not all money is good money.
Breezy: Eyewear is always something that we love, but so is DJ-ing. When Coco and I step back, it feels like we’re building something bigger than just eyewear and music, more like we’re building a culture. We’ve been super transparent in everything we’ve built and have always stayed true to who we are. We definitely didn’t have a perfect life, and we could have made a lot of excuses. But we had the advantage of being twins, and being able to push each other. We’ve always been optimistic. In some ways I enjoy experiencing challenges because it makes me excited—I like knowing that something bigger and better is around the corner.
Coco: I think you need to surround yourself with a community of women help motivate you. Being a twin, we’ve always had that, but something we’re going through now is how to learn who we are as separate people.
Breezy: You need to get the good people around and take the negative ones out. It’s easy to be impacted by draining people without even realizing it’s happening.
Coco: I think that in order for you to to truly embody a Hold Your Own way of life, you have to let of of what other people think of you. That’s my biggest challenge, and something that I’m working on.
Breezy: I’d also add that holding your own means not making excuses for yourself. Just getting on with it. We’re our own biggest critics—but if you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect other people to believe in you. Don’t let your emotions overpower your mindset. For me and Coco, we’ve just decided to go for it. We’re pumped for life.