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When Royalty Cares for the Rural: Princess Diya Kumari Foundation

As global economies struggle with a worldwide health crisis, there are organizations like the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation (PDKF) who are trying to create opportunities for the underprivileged women in Rajasthan. With its relentless efforts, the PDKF is an exemplary beacon of women empowerment

Rajasthan, a regal state with an unparalleled aura created by opulent palaces, rolling deserts, blue lakes and majestic hills in between, has immense splendour to offer. Its culture, sophistication and colors have much to inspire and teach.

Rajasthan temple and girl

But then, it has its weaknesses, and that’s where Princess Diya Kumari of the Royal Family of Jaipur has stepped in to make a change. 

Striving for girls’ education and creating livelihoods for women as a constant effort, the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation (PDKF) has worked extensively towards uplifting the lives of underprivileged women and girls in Rajasthan where literacy rates are low and women cannot progress given the economic and socio-cultural barriers. 

With programs like the Shiksha Diya Project that was started in five schools, the organization has offered scholarship and material support while creating awareness on topics like menstrual hygiene as well as providing digital literacy programs. They have also been acclaimed by the UN Women Committee of Canada for empowering women by providing them financial literacy workshops. 

A state so rich in culture, Rajasthan is a gem. The foundation has been instrumental in promoting this heritage by training women in craft, embroidery, stitching and soft toy making. Their work has also been showcased at the Rajasthan Heritage Week. PDKF’s recent partnership with Airbnb is an effort to display Rajasthan’s hospitality and to give rural women an idea of micro-entrepreneurship as they opened their houses to welcome Airbnb guests. 

PDKF, founded in the year 2013, is heralded by the Executive Director of the foundation: Ms. Shivina Kumari. A global citizen with a glorious career of 19 years in business development, consulting and strategy, she strongly believes in women supporting women. Her experience is diverse. She is the founder and president of Invictus, a luxury communications consulting company. From serving as a corporate affairs advisor for Piramal Pharmaceuticals to Client Relations Manager India for Constella-Future Group, USA, a public health company, her work ranged from working with international government organizations and contributing to a myriad of healthcare projects. She has also worked with luxury brands like Hermes. 

Princess Diya Kumari Foundation tote

In an exclusive interview, Ms. Kumari shares the journey and the extraordinary contribution of the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation.

LuxuryFacts: What led to the beginning of PDKF? What was that moment when Princess Diya Kumari decided to start the foundation?

Shivina Kumari: Over the years the Jaipur royal family has been supporting people in need and Princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur felt the need to create an organized platform for philanthropy.  Princess Diya Kumari of Jaipur founded PDKF in 2013, to empower disadvantaged women and girls in Rajasthan. There are many social, cultural, educational and financial barriers faced by underprivileged women and she has spearheaded efforts to empower them through the skill building and livelihoods programs at the Foundation.

The PDKF has 5 centers in Rajasthan, the head office in Badal Mahal, Jaipur and 4 are in villages.  We set up centers with infrastructure, equipment, supervisors, provide training, design and the link to market. 

LF: How has Covid-19 amplified the hard lives of the villagers in Rajasthan? 

SK: Covid-19 had a widespread effect on the lives of people in rural Rajasthan. Families of 90% of the women that are associated with PDKF have lost their livelihoods. It keeps me awake at night knowing they face adversities as they struggle to meet their daily needs. Access to medical and sanitary products have become even more challenging. The women at PDKF need the income from the products they make and their contribution to their family income is even more necessary now. 

Princess Diya Kumari Foundation masks

LF: How is PDKF helping them in this difficult time?

SK: PDKF, since the very beginning of this pandemic in March, started skilling women at all the PDKF centres in making face masks for donating to frontline medical teams and our Covid 19 relief work. Later, the face masks were made for sale, which not only generated employment for them in these tough times but also gave them a sense of security and confidence of being the sole earners of the family in these tough times. We are striving daily to make sure that we have orders and work for the women to sustain them. 

LF: What are some of the products that the team of PDKF makes? What is the level of craftsmanship that goes into it?

SK: At PDKF there has been a continued effort to revive and sustain the heritage crafts of Rajasthan. In our work there is an amalgamation of traditional techniques such as ‘gota patti’ and applique with contemporary colors and design. There is a level of skill and craftsmanship required that is taught to the women at PDKF. All our products are painstakingly made by hand with attention to detail and finish. We organise special skill building, training and quality finish sessions for the women at the Foundation because we strive for perfection in our craft.

Some of our signature products are ‘gota patti’ elephant tote bags in silk with hand quilting, ‘gota patti’ soft toys, hand embroidered potlis, cloud print facemask sets and our hand embroidered chiffon and chanderi sarees. We are inspired by old patterns, traditional motifs and have so much inspiration from the beautiful architecture of the City Palace. 

PDKF has been invited to present our collection of Heritage saris and lehengas at premiere fashion shows such as the Rajasthan Heritage Week 2018, The Bombay Times Fashion Week 2019 and the Liva Miss Diva Regional Event 2020 as the designer for the show. PDKF also designed and made a hand embroidered sari worn by Suman Rao, Miss World Asia, at the Miss World Pageant 2019 in London.

We are so proud of our PDKF women who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have gone through hardships, who today are able to create products that are appreciated at national and international platforms. 

Princess Diya Kumari Foundation kota silk dupatta

LF: How are you trying to take your creations to a more national or global stage?

SK: The world as we know it has changed due to the pandemic and now we have campaigns such as #VocalforLocal and  #SustainableFashion, but this has been PDKF’s ethos for years. Our creations promote local artisan crafts, local materials and every product sold supports an underprivileged woman and her family. 

We have been creating products for tourists who visit the City Palace, Jaipur. This has been our primary market but now we are also trying to expand to the national stage. We have been using social media to create interest around our products and have also used national online portals to help market our creations.

Our experience has also shown us that the global stage appreciates ‘Sustainable Fashion’ and values PDKF as a brand that empowers and promotes women artisans. We regularly have people reaching out to us from all over the world to order products from us. We also have some wonderful collaborations with international designer brands such as Chatelles, Paris. We have created the first Baby Chatelles handmade shoes for them in our signature cloud print. 

LF: How many products do you produce in a day? How much time does it take to create one piece?

SK: Our aim at the Foundation has been to generate maximum employment for women in rural Rajasthan and that gets reflected in our production. We plan our production with the goal to distribute work to all the women across all 5 centers. 

We make a variety of products and the time taken for each product is different. Typically, each product is worked upon by 2-3 women, as we design products that allow women with different skill levels to participate and earn on each product. Each woman does her part in the creation of the product at any of the 4 village centers, then the products are sent to the PDKF Jaipur center for the final finishing and packing.

Princess Diya Kumari Foundation masks

LF: Producing ‘Made in India’ products from the grassroots, do you think the Indian government is giving enough,  genuine support to initiatives such as yours?

SK: The ‘Made in India’ campaign is a wonderful initiative and we appreciate the Indian Government’s initiative. We have also seen an increase in Indian companies sourcing locally made goods as a result of this. 

LF: Where do you require most support as of now?

SK: With the ongoing pandemic the tourism industry has come to a standstill and tourists were our primary clientele. The Foundation has to find sustainable ways of supporting underprivileged women artisans that are a part of PDKF in this new paradigm.

The Foundation needs support in terms of finding new avenues of sale, more bulk orders of products and more design collaborations that are focused on Indian customers. We would love Indian designers to collaborate with us and design products that can be made by our women to sell in their online or retail stores.

Princess Diya Kumari Foundation baby gift set

LF: How can one buy products from PDKF?

SK: PDKF products can be purchased by contacting us through Instagram, our upcoming website, online portals, our PDKF stall and Palace Atelier at the City Palace. 

(Written in collaboration with Veronique Poles, Luxury Lifestyle Fashion Consultant)

Watch us in conversation with Ms. Shivina Kumari live on Instagram, as she shows some exquisite, divine creations made by the women of Rajasthan. Tune in on August 27, 2020 at 5pm IST and follow us on @luxuryfactsmag and @princessdiyakumarifoundation to access the session