It’s the classic “fairy tale” immigrant story; a young woman from the Ukraine arrives in New York unable to speak English and with little more than the $100 in her pocket, only to become a successful artisan whose unique jewelry designs are met with rave reviews in the media and are soon sought after by celebrities.
But Anna Balkan will be the first to tell you that it wasn’t that simple and there was very little “fairy tale” about it.
“You have to work at it, to find a job,” says Anna. “Nothing is going to just appear in front of you.”
Anna was a political refugee from a part of the world that was undergoing tremendous change and socio-political upheaval in the early 1990s. She came to America to find a new life - and admits it was probably for the best that she immigrated at the age of 20.
“Being in your twenties is the best time to explore the world,” Anna said when she sat down in her shop to speak with NorcrossPatch.com. “In your twenties you’re still a bit naive – not jaded. There is no fear and when there is no fear, things just unfold.”
Couple that philosophy with the realization that you’re on your own and Anna says the reality of survival becomes the primary the reason so many hard working immigrants become so successful - there is simply no one to call on as a back-up.
“What, are you going to call you mom or your friends to loan you money and give you a place to stay?” Anna says with a smile. “That’s never even an option, so, you just keep moving.”
Anna kept moving; learning English and eventually landing in "corporate" America – where she worked hard for years, making her own way. But Anna knew that she had a gift. She could design unique, beautifully feminine jewelry that, she says, empowers women.
“Jewelry does that,” Anna says in her gallery brochure. “When women put on a piece that connects with who they really are, they open up. It is like a declaration of self acceptance.”
Her philosophy is closely woven into her quiet, unassuming faith. She believes that God helps people who truly have a strong conviction.
“Moses had a strong conviction,” said Anna while discussing her faith and the story of Moses parting the sea.
“You can’t make things happen just by sitting on a sofa. You have to make the effort – and true effort. We all know what true effort is needed within us, we just get lazy sometimes.”
When Anna decided to step out on faith and with "true effort," she found that her own sea was parting before her.
She began designing jewelry in 2005, selling to friends and co-workers. Soon, after wearing one of her designs in a Bloomingdale’s store, she was being asked by Bloomingdale’s to participate in a “trunk show” – where artisans are featured by the store. A month later, Anna had national exposure and an e-mail list of 800 clients.
Within two-years Anna’s jewelry was included in the swag bags given to the celebrities that attended the 2007 Oscars.
Now, from her gallery at 51 S. Peachtree in Historic Norcross - a location she refers to as “just darling” - Anna’s designs attract people from all walks of life and from far beyond just the city limits of Norcross.
“This area of Norcross has a je ne sais quoi,” says Anna. “It’s not trendy, it’s not cute – it’s…special. The diversity of the clientele is staggering to me. We have CEOs that shop here, we have developers from Atlanta that shop here and we have ‘stay-at-home’ moms that shop here.”
Always one to look ahead, Anna says she never expects to go back to "corporate" America.
“I just recently threw away my résumé,” she says with delight.
Her next project – to write an inspirational book aimed at helping people learn to rely on their dreams and convictions during times of decision in their lives.