Anna Lee is the founder of Workerby, a Product Development Studio where she also offers workshops and creative career coaching, throws events, and makes magical hats through her custom millinery, Ruby3. Anna creates on the principle that not only is there honor in a job well done, but importance and respect in every task required to make something happen. Ruby3 presents three collections annually - Derby, Spring/Summer, and Autumn/Winter. Anna loves working with clients on custom headwear for daywear, bridal, and special occasion.
Additionally, Anna is no stranger to bringing together creativity and community. Her past projects include establishing Voltage: Fashion Amplified in 2004, MN Fashion Weekend (which later become MNfashion Week) in 2005, and MNfashion in 2006.
Talk about the beginnings of Ruby3. What inspired you begin this endeavor?
I started Ruby3 in the winter of 2000 after moving to Minneapolis from my hometown of Fargo. It originally encompassed any creative project I happened to take on, not just hats. In fact, when I first started producing Voltage: Fashion Amplified in 2004 and Fall Fashion Weekend in 2005, they were each listed as a Ruby3 production. It wasn’t until we founded MNfashion in 2006 that Ruby3 was relegated to my hat design only.
Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?
Absolutely. I was an art major in college, yet also took fashion and textile courses. I am a painter and sculptor at my core and hats are a very constructive way for me to get my out there in a sellable format. I have also spent time designing costumes for theater and dance companies, and would love to have time for that again in the future. Collaboration with artists in different disciplines is so energizing.
How have your hats evolved? How have you evolved as an artist and businesswoman?
My hats have spanned from outrageous to mundane, depending on my priorities at the time. I have found that the best formula is to create accessible, one-of-a-kind pieces as a collection a couple times a year. Each piece may wait a while for the right person, but it is so much more rewarding to have someone really connect with a hat as their own. I have investigated having my hats manufactured domestically, and while I will not rule that out in the future, the idea that each hat is its own entity is pretty important to me. I have product development arm of my business that utilizes my industry experience and allows me to not have to rely solely on my hat sales for income. This takes a good deal of pressure off my one-of-a-kind creations and affords me some creative freedom.
What is your artistic process like from start to finish?
I get flashes of images in my mind - or feel distinct emotions when I see something in particular - that is when I know I need to pay attention. I start writing it down and sitting with the feelings, letting them cultivate. So inspiration becomes action. Then I take a step back and let it sit for a bit. The more I can let it go, the easier it is for me to notice when the next ideas and actions present themselves. It’s a dance, really. I have learned that I can’t force the ideas, I need to leave space for them to breathe. It has eased the creative process immensely and by the time I am executing the final product, I am much more confident that it is what it needs to be.
How has living and making in Minnesota influenced your creative work, specifically through Ruby3?
I think that the inherent need I have to create art has always been counterbalanced by the pragmatic notion that it should also be functional and serve a purpose. So while a fashion statement can be its own reason, the additional layer of my art keeping one warm in the cold months and shaded in the warm months is particularly gratifying.
Do you like to experiment with different materials or techniques in your work?
I think the inner sculptor in me is always trying to push the boundaries of what hat making is, although my work lately has been a bit more traditional. I am working on more surface design in my upcoming collections, so I am getting back to my roots. This summer I went to a millinery conference in Australia and spent each day learning new techniques. It was inspiring to see new materials and execution, and to connect with other milliners from another part of the world.
Do you feel like your work allows you to contribute to something bigger than yourself?
Yes - in different ways at different times in my career. I used to think that it was more important to do the community work (MNfashion, Voltage: Fashion Amplified) over the creative work, as if I could have more of an impact that way. But now I find that I’ve blended the two and committed to my greater creative business, Workerby (pronounced: worker-bee), I am a much more valuable resource and have found a balance that works well for me.