We Needed This: Anna Learns Things Brightens Up the City

How a beading hobby that began with a pair of fruit-shaped earrings became a pandemic success story.

By Zoe Sayler Photography by AJ Ragasa October 25, 2021 Published in the Winter 2021 issue of Seattle Met

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Balancing a purse on your head: probably easier than balancing a small business with undergrad biochemistry and neuroscience degrees. Anna Dong can do both.

Image: AJ Ragasa

Anna Dong closed the buckle on her dad’s worn pink helmet, clipped her red cycling shoes into the pedals of her navy-blue bicycle, and zipped down the pandemic-emptied streets of the University District in a flurry of color. 

Fruit-shaped earrings she’d made from thrift-store beads jostled around in her yellow fanny pack. For a $1 fee, she was delivering those handmade goodies to fellow University of Washington students who’d heard about her wares through Instagram or osmosis.

This had never been the plan. Anna Learns Things, Dong’s brand, started as a blog where said Anna documented all the Things she was Learning how to make, from a bed she built from scratch to cheerful orange earrings that took her several days of crafting. “I was like, Hey, look at these earrings I made,” Dong says. She was quickly inundated with requests: “You gotta sell these,” friends insisted. “I need a pair right now.”

Anna Learns Things earrings double as purse accessories when clipped between layers of beads.

Image: AJ Ragasa

Despite the fact that she’d just picked up beading when quarantine set in, Dong acceded. After all, lemons were just the pointed halves of strawberries, mirrored in yellow. Eyeglass chains were like mask chains with different clasps (though her mom laughed at the idea of anyone that young wearing them). Sweet, sometimes fruit-adorned, purses were a bigger undertaking, no doubt. But “one of my strongest personality traits is stubbornness,” says Dong, who spent so much time watching YouTube tutorials that she picked up Thai and Hindi phrases for adding various quantities of beads to the rows of a handbag.

She makes masks, too.

Image: AJ Ragasa

After Dong graduated with undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and neuroscience, Anna Learns Things evolved into a full-time job. Those same orange earrings she’d posted months earlier? When she paired them with a matching beaded bag on a shopping trip to Prism, a Ballard boutique, a dazzled employee encouraged her to chat with the owner. Now, you can find Dong’s joy-inducing pieces at the shop, at Something Silver in University Village, and at popups and markets around the city.

Dong still makes time for custom orders. She’s not on TikTok, so she lets her Gen Z peers keep her apprised of the latest fads. If those suggestions are popular enough, or just lots of fun to make, she’ll incorporate them into her more permanent collection. On our phone call, I half-jokingly suggested a beaded vaccine card holder. Her response: “I gotta write that down.”

Despite her burgeoning success, Dong’s shop is still a “one-man show.” Maybe it always will be. She’s still figuring out what will happen with medical school applications (and life in general). As for the name, Anna Learns Things, and its bloggy origins? She’s definitely keeping it. “It means more than just learning how to bead a fruit.”

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