Knitter, Dancer, Artist, Entrepreneur
Here in upstate New York, it’s cold in January and we’re grabbing for warm sweaters, hats, gloves and scarves. So from our perspective, Anya Cole is the perfect January Teafluencer – her handknit clothing pieces are not only functional (and warm!), they’re beautiful works of art… so much so that we featured them in one of our fun SoHo store window displays! Read on to learn about this fascinating ballerina turned knitter, entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Harney: Tell us a little about you. Where are you from, educational/professional background, where you live.
Anya: I was born in Poland…a while ago…as a young girl I went to ballet school, then began performing at the Musical Opera Theater in Wrocław at age 19. I now live in Manhattan.
Harney: There’s so much to unpack with you, Anya! Let’s start with ballet. How old were you when you first started dancing, and where did your interest in ballet come from?
Anya: Every little girl dreams of being a ballerina, but not everyone pursues the dream. My parents enrolled me in ballet school when I was 9 years old.
Harney: When did you start to dance professionally, where, and how long did you dance? What was your favorite role, and what was your dream role?
Anya: I was 19 when I began dancing for the Musical Opera Theater in Wrocław. But I never had a dream role. Whatever a choreographer gave me to dance, I danced. That way I got to be a part of many magical stories, from Snow White to Fiddler on the Roof.
Harney: You’ve said that your mom told you, “If you want it, make it.” Some pretty simple, straightforward advice that ended up turning into a career for you. When did you start knitting, and when did it occur to you that this could become a business?
Anya: I was 9 years old when my mom told me this…I guess number 9 is my “magic” number. I was knitting my entire life. From the theater in between acts and at home. When my daughter started her family, I had time to do something for myself. But I had no idea that this would become a business. I launched my first collection in 2012.
Harney: How did you end up coming to America and living in New York City? What was that like, moving you and your young daughter from Europe?
Anya: I didn’t have an option. I left Poland during communism, lived in Germany and came to America from Munich. I wanted a better life for my daughter, Kasia.
Harney: When did you start HANIA? What kind of company did you set out to start?
Anya: Project on HANIA started in 2010 putting all legal stuff together, from establishing the LLC, etc. After that, there was no turning back.
Harney: You are committed to making only the highest-quality products, using imported cashmere and everything made by hand. Why is that important to you?
Anya: For me, quality is very important, and so is being made in NYC by anyone who loves to knit. Sustainability and quality are definitely the key to HANIA’s success.
Harney: One of the most striking things about HANIA, other than your beautiful clothing, accessories and home line, is your workforce. You employ only women, and many of them are immigrants. Why did you make that choice? How many women do you employ?
Anya: Actually, we welcome anyone who would like to knit for HANIA, not only women. Most ladies who knit for us are highly educated from different countries, now immigrated to the U.S. and can no longer work in their fields. They knit for us on their own time. We have ladies coming and leaving Hania, but I love keeping in touch with all of them. I like to know how life is turning around for them.
Harney: You are also very dedicated to reuse and cutting down on waste. Tell us about two unique aspects of HANIA, your Repair and Repurposed.
Anya: I grew up where creativity and sustainability come together. Having no access to a lot of things, I had to figure out how to make things and never waste anything. We produce pieces and more pieces from the leftover scraps. We also rework people’s unwanted items and donate them to charities around NYC.
Harney: Yet another wonderful aspect of your business is that you give back 5% of your gross profits to two different not-for-profits, debra of America and Let’s Get Ready. Why are those organizations ones you chose?
Anya: Let’s Get Ready helps kids and their families navigate the college admission process. It’s something I knew nothing about when my daughter was applying for colleges, so it lies close to my heart. debra of America raises awareness about EB - epidermolysis bullosa. It’s a terrible disease that Rafi, a little girl I met, lives with. I think she is one of the strongest human beings I know.
Harney: Tell us about your relationship with one of the world’s most respected ballerinas, now current Artistic Director of the Washington Ballet, Julie Kent. You refer to her as your muse on your website, and also that you design with the idea of allowing the wearer ease of movement and confidence. Clearly, ballet has an influence on your designs.
Anya: What can I say about Julie Kent… she became one of my very closest friends. She’s more than a muse, she’s family. And collaborating with her has driven my designs. I’m able to use her dance experience along with my own to focus on the movement of my sweaters. And when Julie puts one of them on, it brings it to a whole other level.
Harney: We love a statement on your site, “Bring your imagination to reality.” We employ that philosophy in creating our original tea blends, but we love how you encourage your customers to be participants in their own creations. What’s that process of collaborating with customers to make their ideas into custom pieces like? Do you have any favorites that stand out?
Anya: I love when customers visit our showroom and see everything in person. That’s what starts the flow of ideas. The most important thing is to listen to the customer and find out what they’re looking for. Then I help them create and develop their vision. My granddaughter drew a ladybug sweater that she wanted me to make. We talked through it, locked down the details, and she ended up with a sweater and hat to match. All from her vision. It’s that simple.
Harney: Who inspires you? Who would you like to inspire?
Anya: I’m inspired by life, people and experiences. I would love to inspire ANYONE who has passion and drive and believes in themselves. It’s never ever too late to reach for one of your dreams.
Harney: We are obviously big fans of your clothing, since we featured it in our SoHo store window autumn display! Thank you so much for partnering with us! What other fun places or projects have your products been showcased in?
Anya: Our store window at Harney & Sons was probably one of our favorite collaborations. It was stunning and SO fun and resulted in new friendships. What more could you ask for?
Harney: What role does tea play in your life? Do you have any rituals that involve tea?
Anya: Tea is a huge part of my life. I love to have a cup after work to wind down. That’s a must. A weekend afternoon cup with some biscuits rejuvenates me for the rest of the day. And I love joining friends for high tea. My favorites are a cup of morning tea with milk and anything spiced. Decaffeinated blends rule the evenings in my home. My daughter adores your Paris and Royal Palace blends.
Harney: Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea, or anything on your list you’ve been wanting to try?
Anya: In addition to the favorites I mentioned above, your Holiday Heritage Tea made the holidays that much more special this year.
Now that you’ve had a glimpse of Anya’s creations, we know you’re dying to see more! Check out her beautiful work on her website, Instagram and Pinterest pages. We’re so happy we got to collaborate with Anya in our store window display and are excited to share her work with you. All photography was provided by Anya.