Coco and Breezy Dotson always knew they’d be entrepreneurs. Even the co-workers they served food alongside at age 15 told them so. The only questions were how and when. At 19, the twin sister duo left Minnesota for New York City, where the pair discovered their winning hustle: bold, customized eyewear that literally stopped celebrity stylists in their tracks. That was 11 years ago. Today, Coco & Breezy Eyewear is a celebrated brand, and it’s just a piece of the sisters’ expanding empire, which includes a real estate venture, music and film production, and DJing — all powered by the pair’s seemingly endless creativity.
Hearing the effusive and ever-thoughtful founders talk, it’s no surprise they successfully turned on a dime when they faced with drastic change earlier this year. The sobering effects of lockdown made a planned glossy campaign feel suddenly off-key, so they shifted to more lo-fi, behind-the-scenes content — the kind that won customers’ hearts in their early days. And as calls for social justice felt more urgent than ever, they remade a retail partnership into a much-celebrated showcase for Black-owned brands. Soft retail sales? That just prompted them to sharpen the business strategy for their Upstate New York retreat, the revenue for which has grown since March.
As part of our Office Hours Q&A series on @AmericanExpressBusiness on Instagram, we asked Coco & Breezy to chart their journey from offbeat teens to multi-industry moguls, and to describe what steps they took to bolster their success through economic uncertainty.
You started Coco & Breezy without prior business experience. What’s the most critical, on-the-fly leadership skill you developed? How did it come in to play during COVID?
When we started out, we asked a million questions and did a ton of research. And we’re still learning. It’s been key for us as leaders to put our egos to the ground by asking questions and never assuming we know the answers. We believe in keeping everyone on our team as motivated as possible. Giving space for open communication has been extremely helpful. It’s important for us to empower our team when they bring up new ideas and unique perspectives. During COVID this approach came into play when we had to make a lot of pivots, and everyone on the team contributed to the process.
For many of us working from home during the pandemic, it can feel a bit isolating. How has the transition gone for you? And how do you stay creative?
When things first shut down, we spent a lot of time trying make sure our team could work successfully in a remote environment. And we found it was more than just getting the right technology in place—but also offering the right emotional support and flexibility during a really tough time.
For us, we maintain creativity by making sure our environment is a vibe. We set the mood. We love to have candles lit, incense burning and light music playing. We also take 10-15-minute dance breaks in between our meetings and work.
Eyewear isn’t your only venture – you’re also the founders of a private mountain retreat, The Lorca, and you’re also DJs and producers. What is your approach to balancing and staying on top of all three?
Yes, we do have multiple ventures. The best part is that they all embody the Coco & Breezy core brand values. We are extremely grateful for our different teams for each of our ventures, and we ourselves actually have different roles. With our eyewear company, it’s more of a leadership and business development role with more management responsibilities. With our private mountain retreat and the music we make, we are able to wear more creative hats! Using a CRM system and streamlining our project management organization have also been really helpful.
It’s been key for us as leaders to put our egos to the ground by asking questions and never assuming we know the answers.
From our experience during COVID, we’ve discovered advantages to being multi-faceted. It gives us the opportunity to cross-promote our ventures and to lean into market trends and opportunities where they exist. Approaching things that way keep things interesting, plus it helps take pressure off areas of the businesses as we need to.
It’s encouraging to see more Black-owned businesses in the spotlight. You’ve done a lot to champion lesser known Black brands that you admire. How can small business owners contribute to this movement?
It’s great to see the momentum of people supporting Black-owned businesses, and we hope it becomes normal and not a trend. The point of highlighting the faces and stories behind brands is to raise awareness—and to celebrate the fact that the more inclusive industries become, the more choices there are. And that makes things better for consumers of every background. We encourage everyone to continue take the extra time out to research new Black-owned companies to support everyday shopping.