Former software engineer Sailaja Theerdhala dreamt of creating an authentic Indian doll for long. She launched Kiyaa on December 23, 2014 after working extensively for three years from concept phase to final product.
Theerdhala has to her credit a diploma course Electronics & Communications from KES Polytechnic, Vijayawada and B.E (electronics) from Mumbai University. Yearning to pursue her dream of turning entrepreneur, she completed a diploma in fashion designing from Andhra Pradesh Technical Board and ISB Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Women Certificate Programme.
Theerdhala started her career as VLSI design engineer and worked for more than 9 years in the IT industry. She started a boutique in 2012 exclusively for women and kids wear in Hyderabad.
It saddened Theerdhala that a nation with a vast history, tradition, rich culture and values did not have an unique doll to call its own. “Every individual has an identity. So should our dolls. Why should our daughters grow playing with foreign dolls? Our daughters need a doll they can relate to – a doll that reflects them, not a foreign image,” pointed Theerdhala.
She is perturbed that our children, impressed by foreign dolls at a tender age, fantasize and aspire for life abroad and imbibe western values. Families undergo a typical tug-of-war situation since parents want children to be rooted to Indian values and culture. “That is not possible until we expose children to the right things during childhood and influence them positively. Values are the framework of one’s life. If introduced at an early age, they make a lasting impression. The best way to teach children is through play. Seeing Kiyaa, our children will grow up feeling proud,” she stated.
While traveling from Boston to Hyderabad in 2003, Theerdhala participated in a Barbie dress-up contest at Dubai airport. The idea of launching an Indian doll occurred at that moment. “I realized we have so many traditional dresses but our daughters don’t get a chance to dress their dolls accordingly. While traveling across the globe, I observed how proudly the children of different nationalities flaunted indigenous dolls, that reflected their personalities. A lot of research went into the launch of Kiyaa,” pointed Theerdhala.
The response to the doll is very encouraging. “Parents came to me saying their parents recommended Kiyaa for the grandchildren,” she said.
Kiyaa, the Indian doll, is Indian by heart and soul. Her features, values and lifestyle are truly Indian. Her stories teach children Indian culture, values and history. Her eyes are beautiful and bright and she is blessed with a sharp nose. With her bindi and long black hair, she looks adorable and captivating.
The first Kiyaa doll adorned a gorgeous pink and purple lehanga-choli. Her silver jewelry matches her lehanga. She wears a trendy yet traditional look. Each Kiyaa has its own unique look. For occasions, we dressed Kiyaa as Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi and so on, she said. Kiyaa is a teenager, an obedient daughter, a caring sister and a wonderful friend. She is very excited to meet all the pretty girls and be their best friend.
The doll is manufactured in China. “I gave them a doll mould and they replicated the mould. Kiyaa is designed for girls of age 4-12 years. Parents are decision-makers so our target group is upper-middle class and upper class including IT professionals, NRIs and NRIs who have returned home and want their children to imbibe Indian culture,” she pointed.
Theerdhala wants all Indian girls to possess at least one Kiyaa doll. “I will be very happy if Kiyaa can bring a little difference to the future of our daughters – empowering girls, making them more confident by inculcating strong values but remaining traditional. I believe if we empower a girl, the whole family is empowered and this, in turn, empowers the society-at-large and strengthens a nation”.
Do you agree that thin is beautiful, we asked. Theerdhala replied, “One should be beautiful inside. Being thin or chubby doesn’t matter. Kiyaa always talks about inner beauty and tells girls not to obsess over external beauty”.
While designing costumes for Kiyaa, Theerdhala makes it a point to adorn her in traditional Indian wear but this Indian doll is equally confident in western wear. A contemporary teenager, her costumes have a distinct Indian element like handloom fabrics or Indian embroidery. For example, Theerdhala created a jumpsuit with Ajrak hand block prints while her Christmas gown is made of hand-embroidered pearl and zardosi work. While designing costumes for children, Theerdhala stresses on comfort and uses only soft, light-weight fabrics that are trendy and lend a chic look.