No, they’re not really sisters. Yes, they do like their tequila, particularly when it’s mixed with Topo Chico and splash of lime juice.
Longtime friends and neighbors, Debbie Rank and Eryn Elliot are the dynamic duo behind the Bellaire-based business Two Tequila Sisters, an outfitter offering Insta-worthy, custom-made jeans jackets.
To say these jackets are a tad less tame than the typical blue jean jacket is an understatement. Each and every one is tricked out to the nines with vibrant embroidery, sequins, patches, pins, fabric swatches, trim, and more, all arranged for maximum flare . . . and meaning. Many of the pieces Elliot and Rank create incorporate their customers’ most treasured items. Think swaths of wedding dresses, old ties, letterman patches and the like.
As the pair approaches three years in business together, they took the time to share the origin story of Two Tequila Sisters.
Q: For those that aren’t familiar with your work, could you describe just what it is you do?
Deborah: Oh, gosh. We would never make it on Shark Tank. You know, we really did not intend to be where we are right now. We are so fortunate. We just started doing jackets as kind of a lark. We didn’t have a business plan, we didn’t have a tax ID number, we didn’t have anything. Now we have a tax ID number, an accountant and a media person. We’re the real deal. We like to make custom designs for our clients. They tell us what they want, we brainstorm together and then we try to design it to their specifications.
Q: Just how many denim jackets do you work on each month?
Deborah: We have a work table that has all of our works in progress and there’s usually always at least a dozen of them that we’re working on. And then Eryn and I take coats home. I bet you at any given time, we’re working on around 25.
We have about eight seamstresses that work for us. We have a sign-in system so we sign in coats with the seamstresses and they keep them for two weeks. They finish a coat in two weeks. So in terms of works in progress, we’ll have them at the studio, we’ll have them at the seamstresses, we’ll have them back in the studio, either getting trimmed or repaired or buffed out so it’s got a lot of steps to the process.
Eryn: And just FYI, everything is local. Debbie and I are in Bellaire. Our tailors are Bellaire. It’s all very local, all women-operated and owned.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted your business?
Deborah: We’ve been very fortunate because our seamstresses are literally out of work because there are no weddings, there are no proms, there are no social events like fundraisers and stuff and so they’re not sewing like they would be. Our jackets and masks have kept all of them working. We don’t make any money on masks but we take orders for masks and then we have our seamstresses make them and then we sell them for what they charge us just because we want to keep those ladies in business.
It’s been very satisfying that we have that many people depend on us and that during COVID, we’ve been able to keep them working.
Eryn: What’s nice about our business is that it was already set up to be able to go online. We have clients all over the country and so through our phones and that sort of thing we were already set up in a way. Once COVID hit, it didn’t really affect our business other than the shows being cancelled and that sort of thing. But as far as with custom orders, there was no glitch. We already knew how to make that work remotely, which was nice.
Q: It sounds like you get a mix of orders from locals as well as others across the country. What does your client base look like?
Deborah: 50 percent is H-Town. We have a big following in Austin. We have a big following in San Marcos and we’re at a boutique in McAllen. So we have ladies that follow us from there. We get a lot of orders from them but because we’re online, we’ve worked with customers from Canada, Australia, Germany. So we do orders for people not just all over the country, but really all over the world.
Eryn: Thank God for Instagram. It’s huge. It’s made a huge difference in what people are able to shop and do and see.
Deborah: Our clients will wear our jackets in airports when they travel and we always put our cards in the pockets of our coats for our clients and then they let people photograph their cards in airports. We have gotten so many orders from people who say things like “A lady let me photograph your card in the Baltimore airport. Can you make me a Ravens coat?” It’s very random. It’s so fun just to kind of see where it goes without us even really doing much marketing. It’s been really fun.
Q: What sets your jean jackets apart?
Deborah: We like to take fabrics from clients that are special to them. For instance, I have a denim jacket and I put my grandfather’s varsity letter on the back of it and decorated it with a bunch of patches. So I think of my grandad when I wear it and a lot of people will send us fabrics like a piece of wedding dress from their mom. Like ties, someone sent us all these ties from their grandfather and we cut them up and sewed them all over the jacket. We did handkerchiefs that way. A lady brought us her husband’s army jacket and we put flowers and things that were special to them all over it.
Eryn: We also get lots of butterfly requests. People feel like their mothers have become butterflies when they pass away and we’re working on one right now for one of the astronauts that’s getting ready to launch in the next lift. They have special patches that actually went off into outer space. I mean they tell a story of these people and it’s really a sentimental item for them. It’s really neat. It’s something where like you know, you wouldn’t wear your mom’s scarf around but you could put it on a jacket and then make it look cool.
Deborah: Yeah, it’s kind of like a combination of quilting and scrapbooking, except that the nice thing is it’s on something that you’ll really wear. It’s meaningful to you. You’ll always wear a denim jacket but it has a special touch. Sometimes people have us sew stuff inside where only they know it’s there.
Q: What are some of the most interesting pieces you’ve worked on?
Deborah: I think our most famous client was we did ZZ Top’s denim jackets for their fiftieth reunion. We made one lady a Steven Tyler jacket and she wore it to Vegas and Steven Tyler caller her up onto stage and took a picture with our jacket so that was super fun. We do a lot of jackets that have people’s favorite bands. So we’ve done Taylor Swift. We’ve done Madonna, The Rolling Stones, Dolly Parton.
The weirdest jacket I think we’ve ever done, and it was so cool we’ve done it three times now, and I say “we” but Eryn did it, was this octopus jacket for this lady in the Bahamas who said the octopus was her spirit animal. Eryn put this big octopus on her back and the arms came around the side and hugged her. It was really cool. We put on Instagram and then we have to make it like three or four more times.
Eryn: Who would’ve thought that an octopus would be one of our bestselling jackets?
Deborah: We’ve done a lot of weird stuff. Mostly, we’re just having fun. We’re having a great time.
Q: What spurred you to start a business together?
Deborah: We’re next door neighbors so we live right beside each other, and my UT daughter she saw a jacket on Etsy that she wanted and I didn’t want to pay $400 for it so I told Eryn “Help me make this.” So we got some wine and brainstormed and we made the cutest jacket. It was so cute and then I gave it to her on Christmas and she was like “Yeah, that’s not what I had in mind.” It just didn’t have as much stuff on it as she wanted so then we put it on Etsy. I told Eryn “I know how to get rid of this” and so we put it on Etsy and it sold for $400.
We tried the Etsy thing but we didn’t like it so we just started selling them to our friends. We made them buy it. Our friends were so sweet. They kind of gave us our seed money and bought our first jackets and then we did the nutcracker. We were in business three months and then we got invited to do the Nutcracker Market. We were on TV and all of a sudden it was like a job. Now, we’re like really busy.
Eryn: I know, it’s like a job.
Q: What’s the meaning behind the name Two Tequila Sisters?
Eryn: We’re the sisters because we like tequila. We really like tequila and Topo Chico a lot. It’s a problem.
Q: How often do you get mistaken as sisters:
Eryn: Never. Debbie’s a cutie but we don’t look alike.
Deborah: Never. We don’t look a thing alike. But we just have a lot of fun. We’re sisters in spirit.
Q: What do you love most about Houston?
Eryn: People are so nice and open. No matter where you go, even if you’re standing in the line at the post office, people will talk to you and they’re just kind. I really think people care about each other here. We all came together with the whole Floyd incident. There was no trouble here. We’ve had people from other states, you know Houston is very transient with the oil business, and so many people stay because they know how nice we are here.
Deborah: I agree, people are nice here overall but I cannot say enough about women supporting women. Eryn and I did not know what we were doing when we started and so many women took us under their wing. They didn’t even know us and they’d say “I’ll do a home show and invite ten of my friends,” or “Oh my gosh, I have someone you should meet, a representative with the rodeo, we’ll get you guys in at the rodeo,” or “You guys shouldn’t sell this because you’ll never be able to make a profit on those. Try selling these,” or “quit doing that and do this.” We were just so fortunate every time we turned around there was some woman who gave us business advice for free with no ulterior motives, no financial gain, just women helping women. It was such a magic thing.
Q: Any closing thoughts?
Deborah: I just want people to know it’s such a great experience to come to the studio or do it online, whatever they’re comfortable with. And if they have a story or whatever art they’re considering, we’re excited to do that for them and it means a lot to use ot try to tell people stories.