Back in 2005, Corianna and Brianna Dotson were high school students in Minnesota dealing with bullying and a parent’s illness — but online, they had a massive following, with fans calling them the “MySpace twins.”
It was clear they had something special to offer, even if their classmates didn’t know it. Thanks to their killer style and nonstop work ethic, they’re now designing a coveted eyeglass line and appearing in Beyoncé videos. But things weren’t always so glamorous.
“We didn’t have real friends, we had internet friends,” Brianna, who goes by her childhood nickname Breezy, told me in the twins’ Bushwick townhouse. Tall and willowy, she is outfitted in black shorts, an athletic mesh white button down, large gold earrings, and an open crown hat.
“We were 15 or 16 and we had 30,000 friends on MySpace,” Coriana, who goes by Coco, interrupts. She looks like her sister — down to the same pierced septum and close-cropped hair — but is wearing a colourful watercolor dress and a turquoise boater hat. “We had people who would make us fan signs and we had people who would come into our job at the mall and say ‘Oh my gosh, it’s the MySpace Twins.'”
Now, Coco and Breezy are the co-founders, owners, and designers of a successful sunglasses line named after themselves.
What started in their childhood bedroom has slowly transformed into a three-person company (plus interns) in New York City. Coco and Breezy’s designs appear on celebrities like Beyoncé, Prince, and Nicki Minaj, as well as in-the-know fashionistas.
And while the funky, out-of-the-ordinary sunglasses draw people in on their own, Coco and Breezy’s best branding tool has been themselves.
They have appeared in a Beyoncé video (“Party” off her album 4 in 2011), and they designed the famous three-eyed sunglasses Prince wore on SNL (then were invited to sing with him at a concert, too). Fashion designers are also excited to get the twins into their labels — once Milly sent them $US50,000 worth of clothing. “She’s so supportive,” Breezy told me of Michelle Smith, the designer behind that brand.
Despite their internet stardom and celebrity clientele, Coco and Breezy are eager to rehash their memories of growing up in the suburbs of Apple Valley, Minnesota, where they felt like outcasts. Half Hispanic and half African American, they were the only kids of colour at their school. Even when they switched schools during their freshman year, they were still bullied — both online and in real life — for the way they spoke and dressed.
Despite the negativity, their parents let their daughters express themselves with tattoos and piercings as long as they kept straight A’s, which they did.
“We started making sunglasses because we were bullied,” Breezy told me from one end of the twins’ large dining room table. “We had low self esteem and we couldn’t even take someone looking at us. Right now, how we’re looking each other in the eye, I couldn’t even do this, like, last year.”
Their first homemade glasses were a game changer. The shades gave them confidence and a physical barrier from the stares they received from their Abercrombie & Fitch-wearing tormentors.
In their own words, the glasses provided for Coco and Breezy “super alter egos.”
“With the glasses, we were like, we’re the shit,” Coco said. “But without glasses, we were like heads down and super unconfident. But with the glasses…”
“…you couldn’t tell us nothing,” Breezy chimed in, finishing the sentence.
This is how Coco and Breezy talk sometimes, as if they share the same script. They argue about the exact date of something or the order of events in which something happened, dip into conversations and go off on tangents.
Breezy said she’s the more sensitive artist of the twins, who creates all of the sunglasses designs. Coco, in her own words, is the “tech nerd” who designed their first website and figured out how to get customers to pay for their sunglasses through Paypal. It’s pretty amazing that both can — and want to — fulfil the most basic and important roles in a company: Someone to handle creative, and someone to handle the business.
The twins always knew they wanted to be entrepreneurs from a young age, and realised that they could turn those 30,000 MySpace friends into consumers if they figured out how to brand themselves.
Having the right work ethic certainly wouldn’t be an issue: Coco and Breezy had been hard on the grind since they were 15 after their dad suffered several strokes and was ordered to stop working by a doctor. To help support the family, they got jobs at a local Chinese chain called Leeann Chin — even though the company didn’t typically hire family members or anyone younger than 16 — and later picked up a second job at the Mall of America. They did all of this while working toward graduating high school earlier than the rest of their peers.
“We transferred back to Apple Valley for high school, and the principal told us we would be done with high school extremely early and finish each day around noon,” Breezy said. “I was like, dope, we can put in more hours at work.”
The twins had planned to graduate early since freshman year. A guidance counselor told them to do this, they couldn’t take fun electives and would have to pack their schedules with the necessary courses to satisfy state requirements. So while other students were goofing off in classes like wood shop, they were doubling up on science. By the time they were in senior year, not only were they able to graduate early, they also only had to stay until noon during the fall semester.
When Coco and Breezy are in, they are all in. Working at Leeann Chin was no different: Coco wanted to learn every aspect of the business from the cooking in the back to counting the money. Pretty soon, they were the company’s go-to girls.
“We were always trying to pick up hours,” Breezy said. “For example, say I was at Leeann Chin and I got scheduled from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., but then I got scheduled at my other job from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Coco was scheduled from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Leeann Chin that same day, well, she would just work my entire shift.”
“Instead of her driving from Leeann Chin out to the mall, I would work it,” Coco shrugged. “Girl, we worked the system. We worked the system. They knew.”
“As long as someone was covering it,” Breezy says.
Everything they did was with gusto and as a team, so when they finally decided it was time to move to New York in 2009 — no job, no apartment, and with no real plan — it was also together.
The idea was spawned after one fateful two-week trip to the East Coast on their 19th birthday, when passersby stopped them and asked if they could buy the glasses right off the girls’ faces for hundreds of dollars.
“It sounds unreal, but I was never walking down the street like ‘hey, buy my glasses, we’re selling them!'” Coco insisted. “People were just handing us money. I don’t know if it was like angels who knew our story and liked our energy, but that’s how we got our first month of rent when we moved into the new apartment.”
That same tiny apartment is where the twins found themselves gluing studs onto their glasses out of a sublet bedroom. They were paying $US750 to sleep in a room with no window and only a tiny mattress together — no bigger than their current dining room table, they said. Having a bed took up too much room, and they wanted that room available to design and create.
But thanks to social media and help from their business manager Dwayne Baker (the “and” in Coco and Breezy, they joke), the women soon grew a following.
Ashanti discovered their glasses (and wore them to the Hip Hop Honour Awards in 2009), and then quickly so did Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kelly Osbourne, and Nicki Minaj. Designers began to reach out to them to collaborate in fashion shows and bulk orders started to come through on their website.
By 2010, Coco and Breezy had an LLC and were learning how to outsource building their sunglasses to China instead of gluing studs by hand at their kitchen table. They had just turned 19.
One of the most memorable moments of the twins’ career happened last year when they spent Fourth of July in New Orleans with Prince. After performing with him on stage, the twins were invited to Paisley Park where, while listening to his latest album, Prince said, “I want some glasses with three lenses.”
“And we’re like, What? You want glasses with three lenses?” Coco said. “It sounded so weird, I didn’t know what he meant. But we sketched up some ideas and he said that’s exactly what I want.”
Two months later, they got a call saying that Prince was in New York City to perform on SNL and needed the glasses immediately. Coco and Breezy dropped them off a few days before SNL and were then invited to the show as a part of Prince’s entourage.
“I get a call that says Prince wants to invite you guys to his show and I’m like alright, we’ll come,” Coco said. “And all of Prince’s guests — it was three sets of twins, he loves twins — are all sitting in one row. And I’ll never forget, this was his first TV performance in 10 years, and he gets on stage and his back is turned, and then when he turns around he’s wearing [the sunglasses]! Breezy started crying because he had them on.”
With celebrity friends, seeing their glasses sold everywhere from New York to Lebanon, and having fans recognise them everywhere they go, it would be easy for Coco and Breezy to get full of themselves. But whether it’s their Midwestern upbringing or the intense work ethic that they have honed since they were 15, Coco and Breezy both can’t focus on their present success stories without also telling me how much farther they want to go.
“Someone told me the other day that Coco and I, we are the leaders of the youth,” Breezy said after casually mentioning that only two months ago, the twins — who didn’t go to college — had spoken at Princeton and Columbia University about being entrepreneurs. “What we’re doing right now, there’s no lane for it. One of our goals is to show people that with business, you can be a businesswoman and you don’t have to wear a suit and tie.”
But no matter what comes next — a brick and mortar store? a clothing line? — will they continue working together?
“Always, always, always,” they said — in unison — naturally.
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