The Helm: Coco and Breezy, can you explain your company in a sentence?
Coco: We create beautiful, design-driven eyewear that gives you a luxury experience at a more accessible price point.
The Helm: You were teens growing up in Apple Valley, Minnesota when you began your entrepreneurial journey. Tell us more about that and how the glasses came about.
Coco: Growing up in Minnesota, there wasn’t a lot of diversity where we went to school. We were always bullied and we were misfits. We could have driven ourselves into depression from being bullied for our skin color or for our styles. We started making safety goggles because we had low self-esteem and we couldn’t even take someone looking at us. We were the only kids of color in our school. The glasses became our super alter-egos. It was something that we created for ourselves originally before we thought about it as a company.
Breezy: We also didn’t grow up with a lot. We had to create our own resources and so we are really grateful. Our parents couldn’t financially support us, but they 100 percent supported us emotionally to be individuals and to go for any dreams or goals that we had. We started going to New York to visit and at 18, we went to New York for two weeks. We wore our safety goggles with studs and spikes glued on them. Everyone was asking me how to buy them.
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Coco: People who styled everyone from Beyonce to Lady Gaga to Kelly Osbourne were all stopping us during this two week trip in New York. Those moments were our confirmation that we should probably live in New York.
Breezy: We went back home, quit our jobs and were just so fearless. We had this emotional feeling as entrepreneurs, where you feel that spark to just say “Let’s go for it.” We have a dream, we know people, we’re going to make it work.
Coco: We built a really great community of people in New York and we knew that they valued the Coco and Breezy brand; the story. I think a brand is its most authentic self when you actually have a real story. The product is amazing, but people want to feel like they’re part of the journey.
The Helm: A big part of the Coco and Breezy brand is encouraging people to express their individuality and feel comfortable in their own skin. What really resonates with people about the brand?
Breezy: I am obsessed with our customer base. Our customers, they all look so different, but everyone shares this emotional connection when they put our glasses on; they feel like they can express themselves.
“We wore our safety goggles with studs and spikes glued on them. Everyone was asking me how to buy them.”
The Helm: You’ve worked closely with celebrities. Prince sought you out after seeing the glasses. Talk to us about taking risks and how working with people like Prince changed your risk tolerance.
Coco: I will never forget the moment when Breezy said, “Prince, those glasses you have on are not cute, you need some Coco and Breezy glasses.” And the people around him were like (gasp). And then he was like, “Hmm, okay, well make me some.”
We spent so much time with him and in every conversation we had, he always dropped a gem. Our experience was built out of a relationship before we even created a product. We thought Prince was joking when he said, “Can you guys make me glasses to cover my third eye?” They arrived from our factory the same day as his appearance on Saturday Night Live and he ended up wearing them.
Breezy: Alignment is key — especially in the day and time that we’re living in right now. Everybody wants to collaborate. I think the reason we’ve been successful collaborating with different brands or music artists, is that it makes sense. It’s not forced. And even though we are cross marketing and we are reaching each other’s audiences, it makes sense.
The Helm: Coco, you’ve talked about the evolution that you guys went through — that you went from running on a dream and not knowing how to run a business to this moment when a switch flipped. Can you talk about that?
Coco: As we started to grow, we said, “What is Breezy great at and what is Coco great at?” We didn’t know our greatness as individuals. So we took the time out to really understand our individual personalities to see how we could use that within our businesses. Once we started realizing our strengths, it really helped us as business partners and businesswomen.
Breezy: When we first started the company, we used to be very intimidated because we didn’t go to college, we didn’t look like typical businesswomen and we would get judged — even though we had all these accomplishments, we always spoke down to ourselves. Then we realized we know how to learn from our mistakes and not allow it to make us want to give up, take over our goals and dreams and actually be grateful for those rollercoaster times. That’s what made us successful and able to grow.
The Helm: If you were starting the business today, what would you do differently?
Coco: I would know more about funding because we’ve been bootstrapping since day one. Actually, I don’t think we would’ve done it differently, because I appreciate the fact that we’ve grown slowly and we actually created something that’s authentic. We’ve created a business where we actually know our story and I think we’re definitely creating longevity as a brand and company. I would still be a little bit more knowledgeable about funding because that’s something that we as brown women coming from a middle or lower class family don’t know about.
Breezy: We know what it’s like to boot strap and to work hard and make ends meet.
Coco: Now our goal in a few years when our company either gets acquired or if we go public, is to become investors and educators for people in our communities who don’t have the resources.
Breezy: We’re the only entrepreneurs, business people that work in an office in our family. So we had to figure it out ourselves.
The Helm: How do you invest in the women around you?
Breezy: We spend a lot of time giving advice to people, and that is so important because we had so many mentors around us so it’s important for us to be mentors. We’ve given women who want to start an eyewear company the name of the factory we use, we let them come to the office and use our resources. Coco and I don’t want to be the only women of color with an eyewear company. A lot of times people are afraid to share the resources that are the meat and potatoes of their business. But if we can build an ecosystem, it’s going to be more successful for everybody. And that’s how we are giving back.
“Our customers, they all look so different, but everyone shares this emotional connection when they put our glasses on; they feel like they can express themselves.”
The Helm: You guys are obviously a little busy. How do you invest in yourselves?
Breezy: Every morning I write in my journal for my mental health. I write down three things that I’m grateful for. I’m not only grateful for what we call successes, I’m grateful for the challenges because I learned x, y, and z. I’m a big believer that the way I start my day is how I end my day. Another thing I’m doing is taking piano lessons. I think that learning something new would challenge me mentally and open a different part of my brain that would make me a better leader or a better entrepreneur. I’m constantly challenging myself.
Coco: Another thing that we do is yoga and we go to the gym. I also love learning — I love going to talks and panels. I always need to hear other people’s perspectives. That’s part of my self care.
The Helm: What productivity tool would you be lost without?
Breezy: Our calendar and our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.
The Helm: What would you say is the biggest misconception about what you do or about your industry?
Breezy: The biggest misconception is that people think that sunglasses are only for the summertime. It’s a silly thing the fashion industry is responsible for misguiding and miseducating their consumers. They only highlight sunglasses in the summer, but in reality sunglasses are just as important in the winter as they are in the summer. When eskimos developed eyewear it was to protect themselves from the sun reflecting off the snow.
Breezy: So something that we’re working hard on with our messaging is to not only make beautiful frames, but to make beautiful messaging to educate people about the importance of eyecare.
The Helm: What is your favorite female founded product?
Coco: Everything Rihanna. From her Fenty line to her Savage lingerie, she’s showing every sort of body. The best part about what Rihanna is doing is she represents everything in our brand. She actually lives what she sells. So all her companies are killing it, and I’m so proud of her.
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