On Starting A Fine Jewelry Business
Hello! My name is Anna-Mieke Anderson and I am the Founder and CEO of MiaDonna and our foundation, The Greener Diamond. I was born in New Zealand and moved to Sydney, Australia when I was a child. When I was 19, I came to the United States with a one-way ticket and all my worldly possessions that would fit in a backpack.
I founded MiaDonna and The Greener Diamond to work as a system to address the negative humanitarian and environmental impact caused by the diamond and gold mining industries, and in the process, I created one of the first social enterprises.
My goal was, and still is, to create the greenest jewelry company possible, while adding a feminine touch to an outdated, male-dominated industry.
We sell truly conflict-free fine jewelry made from lab-grown diamonds and gemstones, and 100% recycled metals. We then use a portion of our profits to fund projects focused on education, vocational training, and agriculture in diamond mining communities.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
Even today, in 2021, earth-mined diamonds and gold fund wars, period. The largest mining companies in the world are spending millions to make you believe otherwise, which is why I did not come into this industry as a diamond heir or business tycoon, but rather as an activist.
Some people will love the idea and cause; some won’t. It’s not about persuading people, it’s about finding people who align with your vision.
In 2005, when I learned my engagement ring most likely held a conflict diamond, I wanted to correct things in my mind so I started sponsoring Ponpon, a 7-year-old boy living in Liberia, Africa.
That was going to be the extent of my activism but something unexpected happened. We developed a friendship through our letters and I got a first-hand look at what it was like for a child growing up in these conditions.
I will never forget the day he wrote me, “I had a great summer because only one of my classmates was killed.” As a mother myself, those words cut straight through me. This was the everyday reality for people living in diamond mining communities.
The irony is that women are the driving force behind this industry and are the main consumers of diamonds. We are also the ones hardwired to protect children. But by buying this product we are unintentionally hurting a whole generation of young people. I thought if other women knew the reality, they would make different choices.
My mission at the beginning was simple - sell conflict-free jewelry to be the sustainable funding source to sponsor more children and their mothers.
There was just one problem, truly conflict-free jewelry didn’t exist in 2005, so that’s when I turned to science, helped pioneer the Lab-Grown Diamond industry, and accidentally started one of the first social enterprises in America.
Since the beginning, MiaDonna has led the evolution of the lab-grown diamond industry and has empowered thousands of women and children to thrive in a life outside of diamond mining.
As for that little boy Ponpon, he recently graduated from University and runs our foundation’s projects in Liberia, Africa.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
I didn’t just start a company, I had to start an industry.
On my search for a conflict-free diamond, I soon found out that no diamond dug from the earth would meet my definition of conflict-free. Science has always intrigued me and I knew NASA was using lab-grown diamond film, and companies were using them in manufacturing, so I wondered, “could we create gem-quality diamonds?”
We could, but at the time, the technology to grow diamonds was in its infancy and we were only able to grow diamonds that were up to 0.25ct and they were yellow in color. I started working with scientists to fine-tune the technology to grow stunning gem-quality diamonds that we would all be proud to wear.
There was a lot of push back in the beginning but I knew, one day, diamonds grown in a modern-day lab environment would be the answer to the conflict of getting them out of the earth. I spent the better half of my career educating the public and diamond industry on the fact that lab-grown diamonds are chemically, physically, and optically identical to earth-mined diamonds. Both are 100% crystallized carbon. It’s kind of like ice. You can harvest ice from a glacier in the arctic, or you can use modern-day technology to get ice from your freezer. Both are frozen H2O.
As the technology continued to advance, so did consumer demand. MiaDonna became known as the only retailer specializing in large, colorless lab-grown diamonds. In 2016, MiaDonna scientists grew the largest colorless diamond at the time, grown in the USA at 6.28ct. Today, we are growing diamonds that are better quality and more beautiful than anything we can get from the earth. Consumers know about the 4 C’s, but few realize there are two types of diamonds - Type I and Type II. Type IIa diamonds contain a more pure form of carbon so they are brighter and harder than regular Type I diamonds. Only 2-3% of earth-mined diamonds are Type IIa and they are usually reserved for the very wealthy. The Hope Diamond and Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond are examples of Type IIa diamonds. But every lab-grown diamond at MiaDonna is a Type IIa diamond. Not only are consumers getting a better quality diamond, but they are also up to 40% less than earth-mined diamonds.
Now that the lab-grown diamonds have become mainstream we find we don’t have to spend as much time educating shoppers. They come to us because they know they can trust that their fine jewelry is 100% conflict-free, it’s costing them less, and their purchase gives back. It’s a win/win!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As I mentioned, there is definitely a shift happening in the retail market. Consumers are demanding more sustainable products and transparent brands across all industries, this includes diamonds.
It’s exciting that lab-grown diamonds are now mainstream. So much of the early years were spent educating consumers and the diamond industry. Now conscious consumers are voting with their dollars and choosing lab-grown over earth-mined.
However, our goals remain the same. To empower as many women and children as possible. As a social entrepreneur, I don’t measure success based solely on revenues and profit margins. I have specific social and environmental initiatives that drive my business and I put equal importance on profits, people, and the planet. I measure our success not so much in profit, but rather how much social and environmental change we can create. Since so many consumers are choosing MiaDonna due to our authenticity and because we validate our humanitarian and sustainable claims with our B Corp Certification, we can expand our philanthropic projects and reach. I’m excited that with our next Greener Diamond project we will begin work in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. The project will assist survivors of sexual violence in their recovery by providing agricultural training so they can become independent and self-supporting. Many of these women can not return to their families or villages because of the stigma that still surrounds sexual violence, so they find themselves without money, homeless, and completely starting over in a strange place. We are honored to play a role in the evolution of their new lives.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One lesson that helps emerging entrepreneurs is to focus on slow organic growth versus a large capital injection in the beginning.
Time and time again, I see startups raising a ridiculous amount of capital but without a strong foundation, time in the market, and a clear identity. The capital raised is used poorly and there is too much trial and error. This creates a vicious cycle of constantly needing more funding, taking you away from focusing on growing the business and you never build that strong foundation.
We have been self-funded and that has created a strong, long-lasting base for our company. It’s only now, after 16 years, that we are entertaining the idea of finding a strategic partner.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
MiaDonna always has been and always will be web-based. Right now we are on Shopify Plus. We also have one retail web-support store in Portland, Oregon, with plans to expand these shortly.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I fell in love with non-fiction when I was a kid. School was hard and I had been branded with the labels of ADD and dyslexia, so reading was always difficult. However, if you gave me a book on business, or science, or the brain, I could zoom through that sucker. I was 12 when I read The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz, and I was hooked.
Right now I’m reading Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson, as well as, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller. Some of my other all-time favorites are, “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I suggest focusing on starting social enterprises as we are really entering a new era in business. Corporations that do not put equal importance on people, the planet and profits, are doomed to fail in this new economy.
There are three general social enterprise models and the most impactful social enterprises blend more than one model.
Most people are familiar with the Giving Back model. These are businesses that contribute a portion of their profits, to nonprofits that address social or environmental injustice. The sole purpose of selling conflict-free fine jewelry at MiaDonna is to fund our foundation, The Greener Diamond. One aspect isn’t more important than the other, they go hand-in-hand and are dependent on each other.
Employment Opportunities are businesses that employ people who have significant barriers to mainstream employment, such as Goodwill and the Giving Keys.
Then we have companies that invent Innovative Products or Services that are better for humanity and the environment. Like MiaDonna with creating lab-grown diamonds.
When starting a social enterprise people often think you need to start a business and then add the philanthropic part, but I disagree; it’s the other way around. You need to identify a world issue that keeps you up at night, one that you’re passionate about solving. Then you can identify a product or service that aligns with that cause to be the funding source to right that wrong.
The reason we’ve been successful with this model is because of our authenticity. We simply present the facts about our products, mission, and story. Some people will love the idea and cause; some won’t. It’s not about persuading people, it’s about finding people who align with your vision.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Instagram- @miadonnadiamond @annamiekeanderson Facebook- @miadonnacompany @annamiekeanderson Twitter - @miadonnacompany @miadonna_ceo
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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