Priyadarsini Das, popularly known as the “Green Queen of Odisha” for her unique combination of initiatives from making eco-friendly jewellery, accessories, and decor, to taking care of the nature through various activities with a band of volunteers has become a Trendsetter and inspiration for millions today in Odisha and beyond.
A typical housewife who is afraid of climbing on any stage, and not very comfortable and vocal while speaking to public has introduced and created a new line of skill-sets, employment generation and entrepreneurial opportunity that fits very well into the fast emerging world of sustainable fashion.
She is a down to earth woman leading the march in eco-friendly fashion jewellery in the state. Our team met first met her in the “Dot Fest” Night Flea Market organized by BDA from 15th to 29th January 2023 to mark FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023. Then we again got an opportunity to meet and interact with her while she was attending to receive an award as “Trendsetter” in the Arya Awards function by Parichaya Foundation on the eve of Women’s Day Celebration at Hotel Mayfair, Bhubaneswar on 3rd March 2023. Here is an excerpt of the interaction with the Green Queen:
OD: How do you feel today, when you have got a unique recognition and award as a Trendsetter?
PD: I feel honoured, motivated and happy when I got to know about my nomination from Parichaya Foundation. I thank them for recognising and motivating hundreds of women like me for their contribution to the society and economy in one way or the other.
OD: Can you please tell us about the journey of how you got to where you are now?
PD: Oh! Let me cut a long story short. This journey started long back in my childhood when I used to make my own earring using clay, seeds and bamboo branches for fun and craft. I had no idea that time this could create one of the most sought after business opportunities for me and others. In 2017, a piece of my bamboo earring was found by husband in an old cartoon kept since 2001. I was attracted towards Bamboo as a base for my craft. My husband insisted and kept on saying that my skills and craft has a bright future.
Even though I had heard about the word climate change and sustainability, but he elaborated more about how the world is looking for sustainable solutions and practices giving examples of my work. With some motivation, I started with bamboo and terracotta, then added different natural seeds like Lotus, Kaincha, Baijayanti, Custard Apple, clay then added terracotta, Golden Grass, branches of Neem, Bel, Karanj, Tulsi, waste wood to create my own jewellery line. Further to it, I also added Odisha Handloom, Jute, Dokra to my jewellery line.
When I got appreciations from all corners, I started making accessories and decor to my production line particularly using Bamboo and Waste Wood. My emphasis was to always use locally available resources to create unique but eco-friendly jewellery line. Ever since, it has been a pleasurable journey so far with no looking back, although with lots of hard work and trials, mistakes as well, I am happy that this skill is useful for so many of our young women especially in the rural and tribal areas for their livelihood. Though recognitions, appreciation, rewards, stages are all proud moments for me, my team and my mentors, I personally believe I would be happier if our interventions can help create new livelihood and business opportunities for rural and tribal women entrepreneurs.
OD: Your brand Ecodarsini is becoming popular now. Any reason why you named so?
PD: Well! Ecodarsini, as a name has just come to my mind spontaneously while I was discussing with my husband to expand and start a formal business. Ecodarsini rhymes with my name Priyadarsini and represents well when we are talking about eco-friendly jewellery and accessories. Ecodarsini represents someone who respects nature and environment and integrates with the ecology through her behaviour and action.
OD: What products are you launching through Ecodarshini?
PD: Initially I was only into eco-friendly jewellery, but for quite some time I have added decor and accessories. I make Tea Coasters, Bookmarks, Wall Decor, Wall Clock, Perpetual Calendar, Pen Stands, Table Decors, Lamps, Serving Trays, Candle Holders, Key holders, Key Chains, Tissue Boxes, Jewellery Boxes, etc., to name a few using bamboo, waste board, waste wood, Dokra, Palm Leaf, Golden Grass, Sabai Grass and Odisha Handloom Fabric. Sometimes I apply Pattachitra and Tribal painting to represent my craft.
OD: These products are also available in the market. How are your products and production practices different from others?
PD: The most important differentiating factor is I do not copy others. Secondly, I use the traditional knowledge transferred to us from our forefathers in processing and treatment of my raw material, particularly bamboo and waste wood. I use cow dung, Neem extract, Karanj extract and Turmeric in treatment and processing to ensure not only its longevity but also to bring in the desired quality. That is in a way is one my trade secrets. My solid bamboo bangles, now you see the one I am wearing has a different lustre and this won’t fade. I have been wearing this for almost more than a year; it shines as if it is new. Similarly we also do treatment of our other products to ensure the desired quality. However, we are also in a learning process, continuously improving in terms of product quality and attributes.
OD: You have been working with indigenous women and training them in bamboo jewellery. How has been the experience?
PD: Yes you are right. When I got to know that the products I make has got wide acceptance in the market, I thought of passing on this skill to as many as women and girls, particularly in the rural and tribal areas who lack avenues and opportunity in doing something. Bamboo is a sustainable plant plenty available in the state and one of my favourite raw materials. When most of the artisans traditionally make products including jewellery using slivers, instead, I use and prefer solid bamboo to make my jewellery and other products.
I see this an opportunity when there is an ever-increasing demand for eco-friendly products in general and jewellery in particular, both in the domestic and international market. By imparting training, we can ensure a decent livelihood and income generating option to many underprivileged women in rural and tribal areas. I feel very sorry and disappointed when I hear about forced migration of women and young girls from the state in search of employment to other states. When we can create green and decent employment opportunity at home with a little training and very low investment, why should my sisters go out to suffer and struggle by migrating to the cities. So far, I have given training to 100s of women who are making a livelihood by being at their homes. This is contributing to green employment.
OD: You have just referred about green employment. Can tell us more about it please?
PD: Look, most of my raw materials are sourced locally without putting any adverse or negative impact on the environment and natural eco-system. Be it bamboo, seeds, clay, or branches of many medicinal trees and plants all are available in their vicinity and most of the times it is freely available or has a very minimal cost. These are all green or sustainable raw materials, the processing is also done using all traditional and sustainable practices and a vast majority of our products are handmade. This is why I considered it as a source of Green Employment.
OD: You are popularly known as the “Green Queen of Odisha”. How it all came to you?
PD: Very interesting question! People like you and my friends always appreciate me for my involvement in nature and environment. As a passion for nature and a hobby I along with my like-minded volunteer friends do plantation drive of fruit-bearing and climate resilient plants, make, and install terracotta bird’s nest, medicate, and care stray animals and birds, create, and install drinking water pots for animals and birds in different localities every year. The training in bamboo jewellery designed for the tribal girls in Rayagada District caught the attention of the media. The tag “Green Queen” is a media tag and people have started calling me in the same name.
OD: Can you please tell something about your future plans?
PD: I am an eco-entrepreneur. I want my training skills and products create value for millions of women in Odisha, India, and the world. I want to create an eco-startup culture on campuses, rural villages and also in city centres. People always ask me if I am scaling up my startup. I am still in the initial stage of expansion and will need funding and networks so that that a million lives are touched by these trainings and products.
I just want the skills, techniques and material that I use in producing my product line can be easily replicated and scaled up to create thousands and hundreds of thousands of employment and income generation opportunities for women. And this is the need of the hour as we all are facing the unavoidable impact of climate change. I want people, particularly women from the underprivileged community in the rural and tribal areas to specialise in different products using locally available renewable resources to make their livelihood without migrating to cities in search of jobs. This could be a much better choice in terms of freedom, income, environment and respect.
OD: Who are your inspirations for whatever you are doing and wherever you are today?
PD: Well, there are many. But my mother Late Kalyani Das is the biggest source of inspiration for me. She was the only one who would appreciate my creative pursuit during my childhood. My husband Prof Binaya Bhusan Jena who pioneered the concept of Farm to Fashion at NIFT Bhubaneswar has been a great inspiration. His mind-model has received recognition from the Parliament of India and recently Government of India organised an international conference on Farm to Fashion at NIFT Gandhinagar. I am localising his idea of farm to fashion to create a demand in the market for eco-friendly products thereby livelihood opportunities for farm to fashion artisans.
Prof Prafulla Dhal, Head of CSR at JK Paper (Odisha) who applied farm to fashion at the industry level has been an inspiration for me. His initiative helped me to reach to tribal women in Rayagada. I trained several tribal women who are now recognised as artisans by the government of Odisha. Prof Kamala Kanta Dash, the Founding Member and former Director of the Climate Centre at Sri Sri University has been a constant source of ideas and inspiration.
OD: One last question. What message you would like to give on this Women’s Day?
PD: As there is already a theme set by UN “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, I urge women, particularly who are not so fortunate so far to live with a passion and do something in life should look for innovations and traditional technology around them. They would definitely find many things hidden in the traditional knowledge system that can offer something the world is looking for this moment now. Age, education and financial background can never be a barrier if you want to do something today. A new world is waiting for you!