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Designing Women: Casting on with Anya Cole

February 11, 2013
Anya Cole of HANIA by Anya Cole

Anya Cole of HANIA by Anya Cole

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.

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A sampling of the Resort / Spring 2013 Ready-to-Wear Collection from HANIA by Anya Cole. Photos courtesy of haniabyanyacole.com.

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.

For many of us a knitted good is a mass produced, machine made item constructed out of anything but wool (let alone quality wool). In your opinion, what is the state of craft today? Do think that there is still room in today’s market for handmade goods? Is there hope for a next generation of knitters?

The craft of hand-knit products disappeared from the market long ago as machine made sweaters replaced the craft of skilled workers; not only in America but also in Europe and around the globe. Having said that, I strongly believe that there is a market for handmade goods and we are pioneering a comeback of the craft in the market place. In fact, the hallmark of my entire collection is artisan craftsmanship as well as made in New York City. My hope is that other designers will rediscover the beauty and uniqueness of hand-knit and hand made goods so we can support artisan craftsmanship.

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Fall / Winter cashmere accessories, handknit in NYC. Photos courtesy of haniabyanyacole.com.

What inspires your designs? What’s your creative process?

As a professional ballet dancer, in Poland and Germany, I was always swaddled in layers of sweaters, scarves hats, gloves and of course leg warmers, so the dancer’s garb tradition of dressing has long influenced my personal style and it continues to be a great source of inspiration for my designs.

What advice would you give to other women who’d like to start their own design and craft businesses?

As long as you have the passion and a clear vision of where you want to be and the tenacity of pursuing your dream – everything is possible.

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