A few months ago, Meg Strachan, founder and CEO of a lab-grown jewelry company Dorseywas shopping in a New York department store and wearing one of her line’s diamond bracelets.
There she met some older women in the shoe department; one of them wore a strikingly similar bracelet and reminded Strachan of her grandmother Dorsey, the namesake of her company. The trio struck up a conversation and it wasn’t long before the topic turned to jewelry.
“That’s a very expensive bracelet you’re wearing,” said one of the women, and when Strachan told her it was lab-grown, she remarked, “Well, mine is real,” reminding her friend that she had just had him insured for $75,000.
A back-and-forth ensued about the merits of lab-grown jewelry, and by the end, the woman admitted that Strachan’s pieces were the type her granddaughter would buy today—and probably already had.
That’s exactly what Strachan was counting on when she started Dorsey in late 2019.
“The mined diamond industry is not happy with what the lab-grown industry has done,” Strachan says businessupdates.org.
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“I saw a job opening in a market that many people think is saturated.”
When Strachan launched Dorsey, she was working full-time as a vice president of growth at Girlfriend Collective and raising her young daughter. She had been in the fashion industry since she was 20 and had a lot of experience with direct-to-consumer companies, joking that she had worked at “every type of startup”.
But jewelry, from a business perspective, was uncharted territory.
On a personal level, however, it was very familiar. Strachan’s grandmother Dorsey was a “jewelry connoisseur,” and although she had the means to buy fine jewelry, she rarely wore it, preferring less expensive—but still eye-catching—pieces.
“All her life she wore beautiful costume jewelry that she collected from the ’50s and ’60s,” says Strachan. “And she used to give it to her granddaughters. So every August, she would tidy up her jewelry drawers, and we’d go through them and wear her pieces. And she was the reason I fell in love with jewelry.”
Strachan’s business savvy and love of jewelery brought to light a great opportunity: to produce high quality jewelery at an affordable price.
“When I decided to start Dorsey, I saw a vacancy in a market that many people would argue is saturated,” says Strachan. “There wasn’t the price point, product quality, and brand perspective for what I wanted as a consumer.”
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“Lab-grown gives women access to beautiful stones that are much more affordable.”
A century ago, the same designers and factories were making both fine and costume jewellery, Strachan explains – which meant it was much harder to tell the difference between, say, an expensive diamond bracelet and one set with cubic zirconia.
It wasn’t uncommon then (or in some contexts, even now) for someone to lean in and ask if the stones on a piece were real or fake, which Strachan calls a “very personal” and “kind of invasive” question.
“It’s what you can afford or what the person who gave it to you can afford,” says Strachan. “There’s a lot in that. And depending on who you talk to, the person who asked the question might change their answer. So maybe you’re with someone you want to tell that it’s a more expensive piece, or maybe you want to downplay how expensive it is.”
Over the past 100 years, however, the lines between fine jewelry and costume jewelry factories have become tighter — in general, each factory only produces pieces that fall into one category, says Strachan. Add in a variety of designers to that as well, and “you can really feel and feel the difference”.
But Dorsey is determined to blur that distinction again.
Consider this: Dorsey’s lab-grown round-cut white sapphire Riviere necklace, which Strachan calls a “polarizing” piece of jewelry, the like of which would have historically only been seen on wealthy people or royalty “dripping with diamonds,” sells for just $ 360 – well below the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars its diamond counterparts fetch.
Image credit: Courtesy of Dorsey
There are so many other gemstones out there,” says Strachan, “and lab-grown gives women access to beautiful stones that are much more affordable. Why hasn’t anyone made a jewelry line that looks and feels good, but isn’t just for someone who has an incredible amount of money to spend on beautiful jewelry, which most of us don’t?”
The opportunity was obvious to Strachan, but not to everyone else.
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“Industry doesn’t decide what consumers want – consumers decide what consumers want.”
When Strachan started telling people about her idea, she quickly realized that the jewelry business was “married” to the way it’s been conducted for the past five or six decades — and that it’s an “industry that’s primarily male led.” , with decisions made “very much behind closed doors.”
“I would say the marketing that the jewelry industry has been using hasn’t evolved very much, and the consumer has evolved,” Strachan explains. “The way we consume and discover products, and the types of products we want to buy and wear, has changed.”
Manufacturers often told Strachan she was wrong — that there was simply no demand for the kind of lab-grown jewelry she envisioned. So after receiving “tons of rejection emails” from investors, she decided to launch her business with just $1,000 (a lot of money for her at the time, she notes).
Her first purchase orders consisted of just two to three pieces, and in addition to navigating the challenges posed by the pandemic, she had to juggle her responsibilities as a full-time VP and mother. “There was no balance,” she recalls, joking that she wouldn’t be one to share her morning routine, as it does not add avocado toast or hot lemon water.
“I was packing everything in my garage and then woke my daughter up from a nap so we could go to USPS for the second time that day. I took bags of orders and put them back in my Jeep Grand Cherokee and drove to USPS Strachan says, “and then I would cry at the end of the day because I was so exhausted.”
Strachan continued to personally ship and package each order until Dorsey reached $1 million in sales.
“It was very interesting to me to learn that industries don’t decide what consumers want — consumers decide what consumers want,” she says.
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“It’s a mindset that people need to disconnect from — and the consumer disconnects.”
Dorsey had to be profitable from the start “otherwise there wouldn’t have been a business,” says Strachan. Luckily it was: it has since developed a cult following, with Justin Bieber among its many fans; saw 600% annualized growth in 2022; and boasts double-digit EBITDA.
What’s more, as events unfolded, investors began reaching out to Strachan to see if they could help fund the venture, and Dorsey first raised funds in September 2021. Last year, the company sold more than a million lab-grown stones — and had 25,000 people sign up for the waiting list.
Strachan says it’s been rewarding over the years to see the people who sit around the table and make decisions within the jewelry industry become more receptive and willing to experiment with new ideas.
“Eighty years ago, the lab-grown industry didn’t exist,” says Strachan, “and lab-grown women can have beautiful jewelry at a much more affordable price with the same look and feel, and molecularly it’s exactly the same. So it’s a mindset that people need to disconnect from – and the consumer disconnects.”
If there’s one thing Strachan has confirmed with Dorsey’s journey, it’s that people are more than ready to experience a new era of high-quality, accessible jewelry — and for many, like the granddaughter of the department store woman, is it already there.