Prisoners make branded food and art. Proceeds go to their victims
Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest prison complex, is re-pitching itself as a retail chain. Call it the magic of marketing. And so, this Independence Day, if you are in a mood to ‘Help us make the city crime free’, as the message on the packaging of TJ’s bakery products reads, feel free to order online. TJ’s is launching its website this week.
How a high-security convict jail has managed to turn itself into a brand name, with a product range that includes everything from furniture to biscuits, could soon become a celebrated business school case study.
A ‘noble cause’ (rehabilitation of convicts) angle, an enviable product range, quality, low overheads, extremely competitive prices, and some very smart selling: Brand Tihar is all that and more. The Tihar Factory, which trains and employs convicts, raked in Rs 11 crore from sales of its TJ brand of products last year, up from Rs 6 crore the year before.
Rajesh Goyal, Superintendent of Prisons, Tihar, is not your regular jailor. He does not even like the word ‘jail.’ He prefers ‘reformation and rehabilitation’ centre.
Ask him what brand TJ stands for, and he says, “This brand stands for creativity in a space that in the mind of the public is a very negative space. But in jails there is a huge amount of creativity. Those who live here are contributing to society.”
TJ’s is a win-win for everyone involved. For convicts, the Tihar Factory is a chance for financial freedom once they get out. It also allows them to reach out to their victims: 25 per cent of the wages earned by the convicts goes into a victim welfare fund. For the jail administration, the factory is an answer to self-sustainability. And for customers, of course, TJ’s is not just about a quality experience, but also a chance to open their minds to a new idea of prison and those inside it.
As far as glamour goes, in February, fashion designer Sanjana Jon collaborated with Tihar for the ‘TJ for SJ’ designer line. To her, she says, the brand signifies the best of what can come out of a reformative system. “You cannot fight darkness with sticks and stones, you can only fight darkness with light.”
TJ’s is a grand idea, and a profitable one at that. And from the looks of it, it is about to get bigger. The brand is in massive market expansion mode. After the huge success of the TJ’s store at the Delhi High Court (which incidentally earns Rs 10,000 a day), five more Court complexes are set to get their own outlet. Surely, the Capital’s 40,000-odd lawyers are a lucrative customer base. TJ’s is also now all set to enter the mall space, and has sent a proposal to the popular retailer Big Bazaar.
Have they considered advertising? “First we will open our chain, advertising will be the next step. If we advertise today without having outlets at every place, the advertising will be useless,” he adds.
Keep an eye out, TJ’s is coming to a store near you!