How did Disha begin DiAi Designs – one of the only Lab-Grown Diamond jewellery brands at the time, against all odds?
We’ve all seen the jewellery, we love the pieces, but what’s the story behind it? The brand speaks to us, but who speaks to them? We spoke to Disha Shah, the founder and owner of DiAi Designs to get an insight into the sustainable fine jewellery that we love to wear every day; and we hope this story inspires the entrepreneur in everyone who reads it.
Disha grew up in Hong Kong and majored in Economics and Management and then pursued the Family Managed Business course in Mumbai. Multiple jobs and internships later, she realised she wanted to do something different! She initially launched a high-end couture jewellery brand with one-of-a-kind pieces but did not get the response she had hoped. With the experience gained of jewellery craftsmanship and consumer needs, she was all set to start DiAi. Over the last two and a half years, the brand has received an overwhelming response with the designs and use of lab-grown diamonds. The one thing that stands out about DiAi is the personal connection they create with each client.
Did you work with diamonds before you started DiAi?
My dad is in the natural diamond industry, so I’ve grown up observing his work: how he talks to customers, how he handles things in the office, how he gets his supply from India (at that time we lived in Hong Kong) and then once I moved here I saw my uncles do the same. Basically I grew up listening to everyone around me talk about diamonds, but they were loose diamonds and I was not at all interested in that because I found the trading business quite boring. So if you ask me if I’ve worked in the diamond industry, yes I have. I helped my dad with accounting in his office and interned with a few big brands in jewellery after which I started working in my uncle’s jewellery business. That’s where I learnt almost everything from scratch; I’d go to the factory and learn the entire process of making jewellery. I also sat down with the “Karigars” to understand everything that goes into making the final product that we see.
Since your family is into natural diamonds, how come you decided to branch out and start working with lab-grown diamonds?
One day I was on the internet and I read this article about lab-grown diamonds that completely blew me away. I’m not sure what it was but I was absolutely stunned and wanted to learn more. So I started doing a lot of research, reading, and asking people in the industry about it. When I learnt about how they were made, I was amazed by how environmentally friendly and affordable they are. I always wanted to create something that is luxurious and can still be worn every day, but I never knew how or what product to use. All my doubts ended when I found out about lab-grown diamonds. In my early 20s, I’d started another high-end jewellery brand which had very couture and one-of-a-kind designs but they were expensive and heavy on gold and so it didn’t work as well as I would’ve wanted it to. That’s when I realised I need to use my creativity in a way where I can make durable, everyday luxury without compromising on the designs. I wanted to create designs that were stylish and modern, yet timeless and lab-grown diamonds were the way to go for that. In our generation where everyone is much more practical, people want luxury without having to dig a hole in their pockets.
What/who inspired you to start DiAi?
Honestly, I think it was just the vision that I wanted a majority of the people to be able to afford diamonds and be able to wear fine jewellery everyday without having to spend too much on it. I wanted people to be able to have something to pass on for generations without having to think twice about it. So, that was my major motivation and inspiration. Apart from the lab-grown diamond aspect, the design aspect was equally a priority for me. I wanted to create modern, lightweight designs. I did a lot of research but I could never find the kind of dainty, minimal designs that I was looking for, so I decided to create them myself.
When you started DiAi, you were one of the very few brands that worked with lab-grown diamonds. In a time when people in India didn’t really know much about lab-grown diamonds, what are some of the challenges you faced trying to build a business around it?
In the beginning I faced a lot of challenges, especially since I came from a background of natural diamonds. My family and other people from the industry were very apprehensive about it. “How can we start working with lab-grown diamonds? We’re into the natural diamond industry”, they said. However, this was a practical decision, it made more sense. People had a lot to say about my decision, but a few months down the line, those people started purchasing from us too. Because as time went by and people started to think more practically, with an environmentally – conscious mindset,
they realised that lab-grown diamonds are the future. Of course with any change, comes resistance, and people were unsure about how these diamonds would last. But once they started to realise that the composition is exactly the same and there’s actually no difference, they were on board with the idea.
What inspires your pieces and collections?
We have a lot of collections but I think one of the most loved (and one of my personal favourite) collections is the Celestial Collection. It is inspired by the galaxy and the universe. A lot of our pieces are actually inspired by nature, just because I find it so fascinating. Then we have the Everyday Essentials, the After Hours and what these collections do is they show you how you can wear your jewellery in different ways. One thing that stays constant through all our collections is the minimal and dainty style. Speaking of minimal, one of our best-selling collections is the Minimal Mangalsutra collection. That was inspired by seeing how many young married women want to hold onto their roots but find it hard to wear something so chunky and traditional all the time. This collection was made for them, so it was actually inspired from the modern woman herself. I also love the Solitaire collection just because of how simple it is. Solitaires are classy and timeless, and there’s not much more I need to say about that.
What is the best thing about having your own business?
The best thing about having your own business is that it’s not a job, it’s a dream and a vision that we’re all working towards together and that is something that inspires me every day- to be able to have a positive impact; whether it’s for my team, my customers or the environment.
Lastly, what are your staple DiAi pieces that you never leave the house without?
Honestly I keep changing my jewellery but there are a few pieces that I literally never take off. The first is my Mini Solitaire Studs, I’ve had them on since the day I made them and I don’t plan on taking them off anytime soon. I always have one choker necklace on. Right now it’s the Galaxy Necklace, before that it was the Mini Gold Disc Dangler, and if I feel like it, I pair it with a longer necklace, that just depends on my mood. In terms of rings, I think a staple is just some stackable rings, or a simple band like the Pure Possessions. These are things I never leave the house without.
If there’s one thing we’ve learnt from this interview, it’s that if you’re really passionate about something, you should go for it. Begin small, and watch yourself grow. You will hit rough patches and you will face friction, but you have to begin somewhere.