Interview by Elizabeth Heywood
While the ice and snow of winter have finally caught up to us, nothing beats snuggling into a soft sweater on a grey February day. Anya Cole has made a thriving business designing beautiful cashmere knitwear through her label HANIA by Anya Cole. Originally knitting to suit her own needs in communist Poland, Anya’s woolens now stock high-end shops and boutiques throughout the country and continue to be made by hand in NYC. This week Damsels sits down with Anya to discuss the comeback of artisan craftsmanship and the importance of advocating for other designers.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you came to start HANIA by Anya Cole?
As a young girl growing up in Poland, my mother taught me that if I needed something, I would have to make it. Learning to knit was a necessity that grew into a lifelong passion. As a ballet dancer in Poland, and later in Germany, I knit my daughter sweaters. Living in New York I would wear sweaters that I had hand knit and would receive compliments from curious strangers asking where I had purchased them. It was then that I realized there were people out there who appreciated the rare craft of hand-knit.
You have taken your craft a long way, from making sweaters out of necessity to selling your creations throughout the country – including gracing the shelves of Bergdorf Goodman. At what point did you realize that you could make a successful career out of knitting?
Once people understood that all of our products are 100% hand knit, right here in New York City, with yarns from the best mills in Italy and Scotland, they will realized how special and unique each sweater is. When Bergdorf Goodman and other luxury boutiques took notice and placed orders I realized that success was possible.
It must have been difficult starting not only a creative business on your own, but also starting that business in a foreign country. What were some of the early struggles you faced? How did you overcome them?
I’ve been living in US, specifically in New York City, for 23 years now and I am very well adjusted. As far as the struggles, I faced starting the business – they are the same that any new business faces.
Have you been fortunate to have support from others throughout your career? How important is it for designers to advocate for one another?
Yes I’m fortunate to have the support of my husband, family and a loyal team. Growing up in a communist country I learned from an early age the importance of advocating for one another and the same holds true in the design world.