The neuroscience grad aims for her customers to "wear things that reflect their truest self."
If you’ve ever seen Anna Dong, ’21, on a virtual call, there’s a high chance that she’s wearing a pair of beaded fruit earrings that glimmer in the light. Turns out that these are one of her many creations from her business, Anna Learns Things. We sat down with Dong to learn more about what wearable joy means to her, why she believes in showing the process (not just the final product) and what’s next for her business.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
What was the catalyst for starting your business?
I started my business in 2020 because we were all at home, so I had time to pick up some new skills. Around that time, my mom thrifted me a box of beads. I decided to create a design with a three-dimensional shape, so I made beaded orange earrings. I started a blog called Anna Learns Things where I documented things I had made, like candles and my bed frame. I decided to sell the earrings I had made on my site, and the rest is history.
I strive to create jewelry that’s joyful and wearable, the same way you want a sign to be readable. I want people to wear things that reflect their truest self, mood, and who they are.
How did your majors in neuroscience and biochemistry inform your business?
Toward the end of my time at the University of Washington, I asked myself whether I was a scientist or artist. The sciences taught me systems thinking while simultaneously looking at the big picture, which is the fact that we’re studying these things to make humans healthier and happier. I translate that message through my craft and mission as a creative business owner, and I draw on both fields in my work.
In January, you made one new thing every day and documented the process on Instagram. How did it go, and why was it important to show the process of creating each design?
It was a very fulfilling and labor-intensive 31 days where I tried new beading techniques and different shapes. By the end, I had made everything from a beaded plant hanger and vase to an intricate butterfly tote. It’s easy to look at something made by an artist and think, ‘I could never make that.’ I hope that sharing these projects via video and social media inspires people to create something for themselves.
How do you deal with rejection?
When I get rejected from a pop-up or opportunity that I’m excited about, I’ll remind myself that it wasn’t meant to be yet. I try not to live because of fear but in spite of it. I’ve applied to many pop-ups and will talk to other artists about my dream of attending craft fairs out of state, and people in my community will remind me that my dreams aren’t out of reach. Their words of encouragement keep me going.
Do you have any advice for small business owners who are in the process of learning new things in their work?
It’s all about trial and error. Don’t be afraid to change one thing and see how it affects the outcome.
What’s next for you and Anna Learns Things?
I’m continuing to do pop-ups throughout the year. Product-wise, I’m excited to expand my range of staple pieces, try new shapes and create more custom designs.
Follow Anna Learns Things on Instagram to stay up-to-date on product releases and upcoming pop-ups.
Find products from Anna Learns Things at shops across Seattle, including Prism, Something Silver, Station 7, and Slow Dance, or online at annalearnsthings.com.
About the author: Aleenah Ansari (she/her) is equal parts storyteller, creative problem solver, and journalist at heart who’s rooted in the stories of people behind products, companies, and initiatives. She writes about travel, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellness, and representation in media for Insider, The Seattle Times, Byrdie, and more. You can usually find her searching for murals, reading a book by a BIPOC author, or planning her next trip to New York. You can learn more at www.aleenahansari.com.