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We the Birds founders Natalie and Sarah Knowlton discuss fashion, freedom, and French macarons

When asked to explain how We the Birds came to be, Natalie and Sarah Knowlton exchange considering looks. The Knowltons, who are often mistaken for twins, have arrived at their brand-new, still-being-unwrapped headquarters in coordinated athleisure.
Sarah and Natalie Knowlton | all photography courtesy of We the Birds | photo by Carlos Zuniga

When asked to explain how We the Birds came to be, Natalie and Sarah Knowlton exchange considering looks. The Knowltons, who are often mistaken for twins, have arrived at their brand-new, still-being-unwrapped headquarters in coordinated athleisure. Natalie, who has a degree in accounting and finance, has tied her hair back, accentuating her sharp cheekbones. Even sitting still, her hands flutter with energy. Sarah, a former web designer at Neiman Marcus, is more serene. She changes her hair like most people change shoes; currently it’s choppy and bone-white. The sisters live in step with each other, sharing their home, their business and their brand. They even shared their spot on D Magazine’s 2017 list of most stylish people.

After a moment, Natalie simply offers, “We come from a creative family.”

Sarah nods. “And I guess the story of We the Birds is the story of our upbringing. We moved 17 times when we were growing up. We’ve lived all over the world: Venezuela, Australia, Singapore, Texas, Louisiana … back then we called ourselves birds because we were always in flight.”

Feeling very  French at Toulouse Cafe and Bar

As a business, We the Birds dodges a straightforward definition. It’s a brand and an aesthetic built around all things beautiful. But describing them as either a lifestyle blog or as macaron peddlers wouldn’t do We the Birds justice. They’re both, plus whatever else they decide to do.

“We found a way to blend our crazy interests into one brand,” Natalie says. “That’s not easy, so we defined our roles early on. Sarah just wants to make pretty things. I say, sure, we can do that but we also need to make money.”

Sarah nods. “She’s sales-minded. I’m not. Thank god we have each other. We check each other along the way.”

We the Birds Sarah and Natalie Knowlton
Woodland Deer macarons

“If I’d done it alone I’d have quite 5 times by now, but we keep each other going,” Natalie continues. “We have each other at least to keep each other up when the other is down.”

The first iteration of We the Bird was a fashion and lifestyle blog started in 2015, when for the first time in ten years, Natalie and Sarah found themselves living in the same place: Dallas. “We wanted to do something together,” Sarah explains. “So we decided to do something creative.”

Then came the macarons. Natalie, a gluten-and-dairy-free foodie, loved these fiddly French cookies and entertained herself by whipping them up in her own kitchen. “I started taking pictures because they were pretty. I put them on the blog,” she says. “People reached out wanting to know where they could buy them and I was like, ‘Well, you can’t.’ But Sarah, who’s always been my biggest fan, said, ‘Oh yeah. We’re going to sell them.’”

Natalie dreams up flavors like watermelon margarita—with salted tequila lime buttercream—and spicy mango with dark chocolate chili ganache and mango preserves. Many flavors are inspired by her travels, which yield often unexpected results. Lavender Rosemary, which has a honey buttercream center, unexpectedly resembles Fruity Pebbles. Lemongrass, one of Natalie’s Asia-inspired experiment, never saw the light of day; it tasted like dirt.

See the Dallas Black Dance Theatre take a bow

But We the Birds truly stands out because of their design. Every single macaron is a work of art: geodes infused with rosewater, macarons shaped and painted to look like koala bears or seashells. Their signature macarons glitter with geometric brushes of edible gold.

We the Birds Sarah and Natalie Knowlton
Marble macarons with gold geometric feathers

“Macarons are so complicated to make that a lot of people don’t want to put in this kind of time to make them pretty. And yeah, when you’re hand-painting macaron number 900 out of 1000 for a custom order, you can start to hate your job,” Natalie jokes.

“We decided to do the most difficult cookies and make our process as labor-intensive as possible,” Sarah adds wryly. “Welcome to We the Birds.”

But by January 2017, the brand had become their full-time passion. They worked out of their kitchen and living room, adding a photographer, Emily Fried, and a pastry chef, Megan Anderson, to the staff. Today, they have cultivated a creative hub in a three-room renovated office in East Dallas, their first headquarters. Before they moved in, it was a windowless box. Sarah resigned the entire space to be bright and white with subtle accents, furniture from Overstock and wide front windows to let in plenty of natural light. A back room houses their new commercial kitchen. The space is minimalistic and clean with a touch of grunge, set up so they can create content in-house: photography, styling, modeling, videography, through to post-production. And of course, macarons, which can be custom-ordered from their website.

We the Birds Sarah and Natalie Knowlton
Macarons in Bloom

“It’s the first time we’ve ever put down roots for this long,” Natalie says. “I’ve been in Dallas for over three years. The only time I’ve been anywhere that long was three and a half years in Singapore. We signed a five-year lease here. That’s personally groundbreaking for us.”

“For a long time we didn’t want to have roots. We thought it was a bad thing. But there’s beauty in putting down roots. We’re finding fulfillment in our lives here,” Sarah adds. “We’re always going to be working; every human is always going to be working. It’s about finding our peace while we’re at it.”

Sarah is five and a half years sober and in recovery from drugs and alcohol. She’s not afraid to talk about it. “A big piece of addiction is stimulation, seeking it in more and more. I think as a culture, we are overstimulated. I’m not ashamed of my addiction because you better believe you have some kind of an addiction too.”

“I’m really proud of her,” Natalie chimes in. “I went to an Al-Anon meeting once—a meeting for families of alcoholics—and everything we talked about was applicable to life in general. It doesn’t take an addict to need help. Everyone does.”

We the Birds Sarah and Natalie Knowlton

“I want to share about my recovery and journey. I haven’t found my platform yet. I have to create it myself within We the Birds. And I have the power to do that. The job we created didn’t exist,” Sarah points out. “We just made it. That’s a big difference between our generation and the one before; we’re creating all these new jobs because they make sense for us. You see it in fashion right now: millennials have been characterized by ripping off other generations. But now we’re finding our own style in a no rules area, and encouraging individuality and body positivity—if you like it, wear it.”

As far as future plans go, We the Birds never wanted to limit their brand to just Dallas, though it’s where they’ve made their headquarters. They hope that with their new base of operations they can expand beyond, even ship macarons across the globe. Though they fully intend to keep traveling the world for inspiration, they can always return to the nest they’ve built together. Soon, they’ll paint their logo on the door and make it official.

“People ask where we see ourselves in five years and that’s such a hard question. But we know we’ll be doing this,” Natalie says.

“We don’t know exactly what it’ll look like but it’ll be We the Birds,” Sarah agrees. “That makes me feel free.”

Originally published in Plano Profile’s September 2018 issue