There, she encountered a pair of older women in the shoe section; one of them wore a strikingly similar bracelet and reminded Strachan of her grandmother Dorsey, her company’s namesake. The trio struck up a conversation, and it wasn’t long before the subject turned to jewelry.
“That’s a very expensive bracelet you have on,” one of the women said, and when Strachan informed her it was lab-grown, she remarked, “Well, mine’s real,” reminding her friend that she’d just had it insured for $75,000.
A back-and-forth about the merits of lab-grown jewelry ensued, and by the end of it, the woman admitted that Strachan’s pieces were the type her granddaughter would buy today — and in fact probably already had.
That’s exactly what Strachan was banking on when she started Dorsey in late 2019.
“The mined-diamond industry is not happy about what the lab-grown industry has done,” Strachan tells Entrepreneur.
“I saw a vacancy in a market that a lot of people would argue is saturated.”
When Strachan launched Dorsey, she was working full-time as the vice president of growth at Girlfriend Collective and raising her young daughter. She’d been in the fashion industry since she was 20 and had a lot of experience with direct-to-consumer companies, joking that she’d worked at “every type of startup.”
But jewelry, from a business perspective, was uncharted territory.
On a personal level, however, it was deeply familiar. Strachan’s grandmother Dorsey was a “jewelry connoisseur,” and though she had the means to purchase fine jewelry, she rarely wore it, preferring less expensive — but still eye-catching — pieces instead.
“Throughout her whole life, she wore beautiful costume jewelry that she collected from the ’50s and ’60s,” Strachan says. “And she used to give it to her granddaughters. So every year, in August, she would clean out her jewelry drawers, and we would get to go through them and wear her pieces. And she was the reason I fell in love with jewelry.”
Strachan’s business savvy and love for jewelry revealed a major opportunity: producing high-quality jewelry at an affordable price.
“When I decided to start Dorsey, I saw a vacancy in a market that a lot of people would argue is saturated,” Strachan says. “There wasn’t the price point, quality of product and brand perspective for what I wanted as a consumer.”
“Lab-grown gives women access to beautiful stones that are much more affordable.”
A century ago, the same designers and factories made both fine and costume jewelry, Strachan explains — which meant that it was a lot more difficult 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 could you afford or what could the person who gave it to you afford,” Strachan says. “There’s a lot in that. And depending on who you’re talking to, the person who’s asked the question might actually change their answer. So you might be with somebody who you want to tell it’s a more expensive piece, or maybe you want to downplay how expensive it is.”
Over the past 100 years, however, the divisions between fine-jewelry and costume-jewelry factories have become more rigid — generally, each factory produces only pieces that fall into one category, Strachan says. Add in divergent designers as well, and “you really can touch and feel the difference.”
But Dorsey is committed to blurring that distinction again.
Consider this: Dorsey’s lab-grown, round-cut white sapphire Riviere necklace, which Strachan calls a “polarizing” piece of jewelry, the likes of which would only have been seen on wealthy people or royalty “dripping with diamonds” in the past, retails for just $360 — far below the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars its diamond counterparts command.
Image credit: Courtesy of Dorsey
“There are so many other gemstones,” Strachan says, “and lab-grown gives women access to beautiful stones that are much more affordable. Why hasn’t somebody created a line of jewelry that looks and feels great, but isn’t just for someone who has an incredible amount of money to spend on fine jewelry, which most of us do not?”
The opportunity was abundantly clear to Strachan — but not to everyone else.
“Industries don’t decide what consumers want — consumers decide what consumers want.”
When Strachan began telling people about her idea, she soon realized that the jewelry business was “married” to the way it’s operated for the last five or six decades — and that it’s an “industry primarily run by men,” with decisions unfolding “very much behind closed doors.”
“I would argue that the marketing the jewelry industry has used hasn’t evolved very much, and the consumer has evolved,” Strachan explains. “The way that we consume and discover products, and the types of products that we want to buy and wear, has changed.”
Manufacturers told Strachan many times that she was wrong — that there simply wasn’t a demand for the kind of lab-grown jewelry she envisioned. So, after receiving “tons of rejection emails” from investors, she decided to bootstrap — launching her company with just $1,000 (a lot of money for her at the time, she notes).
Her first purchase orders had just two to three pieces, and in addition to navigating pandemic-induced challenges, she had to juggle her responsibilities as a full-time VP and mom. “There was no balance,” she recalls, quipping that she wouldn’t be one to share her morning routine, as it does not include any avocado toast or hot lemon water.
“I was packing everything in my garage and then waking my daughter up from a nap so we could go to USPS for the second time that day. I would take bags of orders and put them back in my Jeep Grand Cherokee and drive to USPS,” Strachan says, “and then I’d cry at the end of the day because I was so exhausted.”
Strachan continued to personally ship and pack every order until Dorsey hit $1 million in sales.
“It’s been really interesting for me to learn that industries don’t decide what consumers want — consumers decide what consumers want,” she says.
“It’s a mentality that people have to disconnect from — and the consumer is disconnecting from it.”
Dorsey had to be profitable from the start “or there wouldn’t have been a business,” Strachan says. Fortunately, it was: It’s since developed a cult following, counting Justin Bieber among its many fans; saw 600% year-over-year growth in 2022; and boasts a double-digit EBITDA.
What’s more, in quite the turn of events, investors began reaching out to Strachan to see if they could help fund the venture, and Dorsey first raised money in September 2021. Last year, the company sold more than one million lab-grown stones — and had 25,000 people sign up for the waitlist.
Over the years, Strachan says it’s been rewarding 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,” Strachan says, “and lab-grown allows women to have beautiful jewelry at a much more affordable price point with the same look and feel, and molecularly, it’s exactly the same. So it’s a mentality that people have to disconnect from — and the consumer is disconnecting from it.”
If there’s one thing that Strachan’s confirmed with Dorsey’s journey, it’s that people are more than ready to experience a new era of quality, accessible jewelry — and for many, like the granddaughter of the woman in the department store, it’s already here.