Anya Berlova is a Colorado native — she grew up in the Boulder area and is about to graduate from CU Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, where she was chosen for a “competitive honors/professional development program.” She’s soon to be enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Yale University — what further sets her apart is a fervent passion for creating social impact through “illustration, animation, film, fashion and technology.” A large portion of her work focuses on counteracting bullying and peer pressure among young people.
She created Anya Berlova Studio, her personal brand, to “build resilience against bullying/peer pressure and embrace what makes them unique,” she said. Her own line of clothing aims to help spread her mission. “I view fashion as a tangible art form that can make someone feel confident and empowered,” said Berlova. “I hope people who wear my apparel feel more confident! And it can also help spread meaningful messages to others,” she added. The clothing collection is made up of sweatshirts, tote bags and shirts, featuring original slogans and illustrations. “I wanted each piece to be cool and sassy, and to appeal to people of different ages and genders,” she said.
Berlova’s interest in anti-bullying work stems from her awareness of “the psychological factors that contribute to bullying as well as those that may develop as a result of it,” she said. She described bullying as a “set of behaviors that continue over time…” They’re “intended to make someone feel intimidated, excluded, embarrassed or hurt through verbal or physical abuse.” She added that it appears in many different forms, including physical attacks, name-calling and rumor-spreading, among others.
Activism Through Illustration
While she loves using her fashion line to spread awareness, Berlova’s activism spreads to other mediums as well. Recently, she’s been developing an educational technology game related to bullying prevention and is also passionate about illustrating for children. “There is something very magical in the process, and it’s always fun to bring the characters to life,” she explained. “I’m reminded of the quote from The Little Prince, ‘All grown-ups were once children…but only few of them remember it.’”
Berlova’s official Instagram page showcases her art and photography series. It “follows the adventures of a drawn sheep named ‘Sheepers’ and a pug named ‘Puggie’ as they travel the world and respond to different events,” she said. “People have bonded with them and the positivity that they carry. In a way, Sheepers and Puggie are like virtual companions and travel buddies.” She uses these characters to help start conversations around important topics and keep young people engaged.
The Pandemic, Bullying and Loneliness
Berlova’s apparel launched right before the pandemic hit, causing her to cancel events and presentations and shift her business practices. However, it wasn’t just her brand that was impacted. She also noticed that the pandemic affected the scope of bullying, a result of social climates shifting so rapidly. “There has been an increase in cyberbullying since the start of the pandemic,” she said. This topic even came up in TED Talks that she gave in the UK. During these presentations, Berlova discussed “how we can use technology and the creative sphere to tackle loneliness.
“In part, a contributor to the rise in negative behaviors online may be loneliness, which has also increased due to the time people have been spending away from friends, family and coworkers. According to research, loneliness can make someone be more aggressive and hostile, and it’s been an ongoing problem that has been exacerbated by recent events,” she said.
Berlova plans to keep her various creative projects going while attending her Ph.D. program at Yale, and even hopes to “add new projects in illustration, film and animation.” Using creativity and art to share messages has always been captivating for her. “Each area that art encompasses is like its own language that speaks to people in its own way, but it’s also a universal language that can be understood and experienced by many,” she said. “And so I was drawn to the idea of using creative tools to combat bullying and empower people.”
Her TED Talk, What Apes Can Teach Us About Bullying, is on YouTube. Follow along with her projects on Instagram. Berlova’s line of clothing is available on her website, along with more information on the cause.