By Naila Francis
At first, she was just the annoying younger sister, foisting her impractical dreams on a sibling whose life was too full to entertain them.
Yes, before there was bittle D, the new T-shirt line from Ivyland-reared sisters Dorothy and Danielle Cascerceri — shirts they proudly pronounce to be “made with 100 percent organic cotton and lots of love”— there was enough bickering and drama to make the likelihood of them ever entering into business together laughably far-fetched.
“Growing up, she was my adorable little sister but kind of a nuisance,” says Dorothy. “I couldn’t have friends sleep over because we’d have to be quiet when she was sleeping. She was always getting into my things. … It got to the point where I tried to convince my dad to give me a lock for my own bedroom.
“If you asked me would I ever own or co-own a T-shirt line, I would laugh at you. I never thought I would work with Danielle in any capacity.”
Yet bittle D — the brand comes from combining the sisters’ lifelong nicknames for each other, “big D” and “little D” — officially launched last week through their company Dart & Dee LLC.
And its first two tees, featuring bold graphics, hand-placed rhinestones and sayings that owe as much to pop culture as they do the ladies’ own sassy and fun personalities, have been flying out of their Brick, N.J., warehouse.
“All the Single Ladies” is a spunky ode to independence and self-reliance — and, yes, it was partly inspired by a night boogieing to Beyoncé’s smash hit — while “Hail Mary” pays pert tribute to many a night owl’s favorite brunch elixir. Two additional designs, “Challah At Me” and “Don’t Judge Me,” will make their debut in February, with more on the way.
The fitted tees retail for $62 and are, for now, only available through their website, bittle-d.com. They are the result of two years of intense research, planning and labor while Danielle juggled the demands of being a college student at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and Dorothy her career as senior editor and TV spokeswoman for In Touch Weekly in New York City. Meetings often took place over email, video chat and BlackBerry Messenger, on long train and car rides, and with plenty of anxiety-wracked moments to temper the adrenaline rushes.
Consider last Monday, when bittle D officially opened for business. Danielle, as her big sis tells it, was racing across campus, sweating profusely, to hand in a 15-page paper that was due minutes before the site went live.
“Just another day in the life of a college business mogul,” jokes Danielle, now a senior.
But neither she nor Dorothy has any formal business training. They do, however, share an entrepreneurial gene pool. Dad Frank Cascerceri used to own Bleachers Sports Bar, as well as the Beach Club, both former hot spots on Philadelphia’s Delaware Avenue.
“There is a lot of him that really lies within both of us,” says Dorothy, admitting that even as a child, she was “always trying to hustle and start a business and be a salesperson.”
At age 8, she got her start in an admittedly short-lived business reselling tulips she’d plucked from their very own gardens to her neighbors. She’s significantly savvier now, handling most of the bookkeeping and public relations for bittle D, while also serving as the liaison with the shirts’ manufacturers. Danielle is the company’s creative arm, working on the website and graphic designs for the shirts. It helps that she’s also a marketing and public relations major at Quinnipiac, who has had several internships in both fields.
As co-founders of Dart & Dee, the sisters don’t keep official titles, unless you count Danielle being dubbed “Chief Sunshine Officer” for her limitless enthusiasm and Dorothy’s more reluctantly accepted role as “Chief Bossy Officer.” But their partnership does boast a genuinely mutual affection and admiration, even though Dorothy initially felt harassed by Danielle’s repeated suggestions to start a T-shirt line.
“I kept just saying, ‘This is my kid sister. It’s not so easy for me to leave my job and start a T-shirt line,’ ” she recalls. “I kind of, as an older sister, snobbily dismissed her.”
By that time, however, the two had become best friends, despite an eight-year age difference — Dorothy is 30 while Danielle turns 22 in January — and the divergent lives they led.
When Christmas Day 2009 found them lounging around at their dad’s home in Ivyland, and Danielle made a quip (unprintable here) to which Dorothy responded, “Oh, my god, that needs to go on a T-shirt,” a family business was born. The two huddled on the couch for hours, making plans and hatching ideas for tees.
Kendell Jenner, Kim Kardashian’s younger sister, is already among bittle D‘s fans, and the shirts have been featured on “Martha Stewart Living” on Sirius XM Radio. Popular boutiques like Santa Monica’s Fred Segal have also expressed interest in carrying them. And given Dorothy’s career in entertainment news (she’s also freelanced for People magazine and was an entertainment editor for the National Enquirer), it likely won’t be long before they’re adorning more celebrities.
“They’re fun, the sayings are funny, they’re bright,” says Danielle. “We know how to have a good time and we like to reflect our personality in what we do.”
That the sisters, both Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School graduates, are enjoying themselves — “Can you believe this is the girl who used to scream at me for using her curling iron when we were in school?” Danielle asks incredulously — is evident not only in their product but on their website. There, a blog chronicles their adventures and misadventures in life, sisterhood and becoming fashion magnates, while the overall tone of the entire site is that of a favorite gal pal wanting only the fabulous best for her friends.
Still, Danielle admits, “we’ve been sisters and friends our whole lives, but learning to be business partners with each other was a completely different experience.”
There’s much they’ve learned along the way, about communication and time management, fabric fits and rhinestone detailing (finding a manufacturer that would screen-print the shirts and apply rhinestones in the way they envisioned was extremely difficult, they say).
But one lesson stands out.
“When we started this, Dorothy was working a full-time job and I’m a college student. There was never enough time, we didn’t have any experience, but look at where we are now,” says Danielle. “I know it sounds cliché, but if you have a strong vision and you have the determination to make it a reality, you really can do it.”
– The Intelligencer, Bucks County Courier Times and Burlington County Times