The Makers: The Wandering Spirit of Wish You Were Northwest
Meet the road-tripping, coffee-sipping sisters behind this PNW-inspired clothing line
By Alene Bouranova
August 4, 2015
There’s something special about living in the Pacific Northwest. It’s like the whole world is alive; the forests, the valleys and those glorious mountains all pulse with a quiet, but very real energy that practically begs to be explored.
That untamed wanderlust is what inspires the clothing line Wish You Were Northwest.
Wish You Were Northwest is an online retailer that would be right at home at Urban Outfitters. Its staples are relaxed-fit graphic tees and tanks with cheeky, block-lettered messages like “weekend roamer,” “road trips & donuts” and a personal favorite, “hella trees.”
The sisters behind the line, Tahnee Birkeland and Tory Cobrea (née Cyr), were born and bred in Washington state. Their clothes are all inspired by classic scenes of Northwest living: sitting round campfires by the river, sipping coffee on a front porch and taking long drives through the mountains without a destination in mind.
“We wanted to make clothes that have that feeling that we get living here,” Cobrea explains. “We wanted to put that into something tangible.”
They started selling their products, a blend of screenprinted beanies, sweatshirts and tees, on Etsy before moving to their own online shop last May. The shop currently has 19 Northwest-inspired items, several of which are collaborations with other online retailers. Intriguingly, most WYWNW customers hail from areas outside of the upper left U.S.A (they cite PNW-dwellers as making up only 10 percent of their customer base). Regardless, they see their clothes as an invitation into the Northwest aesthetic.
“[Our customers] love the idea of here— the outdoors, the adventure, the wandering— and they connect with the [clothing] messages on a personal level,” says Birkeland. “That’s so inspiring to us; we want them to feel like it’s their message and their shirt.”
Birkeland’s favorite WYWNW shirt, as modeled by their friend Charlotte; photo: Mattie Krall
Birkeland and Cobrea grew up in a log house in Bothell, Wash. Their parents were creatives—mom an artist and dad a musician—who took a free-spirited approach to raising their daughters.
“We would go to bed at one in the morning listening to my dad’s rock band playing, and that was totally normal,” Birkeland says.
What resonated the most with the sisters was their Sunday drives. Loading into the car, their parents would take them on road trips to places all over the state, often ending at roadside diners (for a slice of pie, of course). This destination-less driving, “our church,” as they call it, is where the sisters learned to love not only the state in which they lived, but to embrace spontaneity and adventure.
This easygoing upbringing resulted in two creative girls with different ways of expressing it. Birkeland, the extrovert, was a ballerina, training in the Cornish Preparatory Dance Program while attending high school in Mill Creek. The quieter Cobrea, with her ever-changing hair color (it’s currently a light, pretty lilac), was homeschooled her whole life.
“I never even stepped foot into a school,” she says. “My education was on the streets of Seattle.”
Cobrea (then with blue hair) models a mountain pendant necklace by Sweet Home Nashville; photo: Wish You Were Northwest
Different as they are, they’re also very similar. They have the same delicate features and sense of humor; talking to them, you can tell they’re close. They defer to each other constantly, asking the other’s opinion and laughing at each other’s jokes. Being sisters, they say, is what makes them such good business partners.
“If you’re going to have a business partner, your sibling is the best one to have!” Birkeland says. “You understand each other.”
“There’s also no judgement between us–I can go to [Tahnee’s] house in my worst clothes,” Cobrea jokes.
“Yeah–in socks and sandals!” her sister adds.
Running their own business suits them perfectly. They see it as a creative outlet; both love fashion and the arts and always knew they wanted to create things together. The resulting clothes are an extension of their personal styles–a combination of Birkeland’s classic look and Cobrea’s grungier vibe. “We only make things that we would wear.” Though many of their ideas end up being too inside joke-y for screenprinting (they were relieved that people appreciated “hella trees”).
They also love the mobility. They can work from anywhere, which allows them to spend time with their families; both are married and Birkeland is a mom to two girls. Being a mobile brand also permits them to continue exploring the Northwest (they say La Push is a favorite place) and documenting their adventures on Instagram. While both their personal accounts (@torysavannah and @tahneebryn) and the company account (@wishyouerenorthwest) are well-liked collections of forests, lakes and outfits, the Instagram community is what endears them to the social platform.
“Instagram is how we interact with our customers,” Cobrea says, adding that most of their advertising takes place on the site.
Birkeland and Cobrea feature different customers on the WYWNW Instagram account : photo: Wish You Were Northwest & Maria Layton
Eventually, they hope to make their own garments. But for now, they’re approaching the business with their typical adventurous attitude.
“We always want to have fun. As long as we’re having fun and enjoying [the business] then we’ll keep doing what we do,” Cobrea says.
“Exactly,” adds her sister. “Our plan is just seeing where this takes us.”
Want more? You can find Wish You Were Northwest on Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Periscope and Instagram.