The road less trav­elled

Divej Me­hta, Founder of In­mate, has a way of talk­ing about all mat­ters that makes you pause. It’s in his en­thu­si­as­tic ex­cite­ment when he de­scribes the idea of train­ing and re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing the most ne­glected per­sons by in­fus­ing in them the dig­nity of la­bor

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In­dia has its storied ty­coons who be­gan as hum­ble traders be­fore trans­form­ing into cre­ators of di­ver­si­fied man­u­fac­tur­ing con­glom­er­ates. One trader, in leather hides, who suc­ceeded in build­ing a top notch rep­u­ta­tion, is Deepesh Me­hta. He has trans­formed his com­pany into one of In­dia’s largest leather hide mar­keters. His is a story that’s heard of­ten in the footwear trade. S&A’S en­deav­our is to look out for jour­neys less chron­i­cled like his son’s – De­vij Me­hta.


Fig­u­ra­tively speak­ing, some­one who takes ‘the road less trav­eled’ is act­ing in­de­pen­dently, free­ing them­selves from the con­form­ity of oth­ers. He chooses to take ‘the road more of­ten trav­eled’, gen­er­ally mak­ing their own choices, and per­haps leav­ing a new trail that will be­come the road more of­ten trav­eled. It’s no dif­fer­ent among a num­ber of fam­ily-run groups with what scions do­ing their bit to change the way busi­ness is run. In a few cases,

the next-gen­er­a­tion mem­bers pre­fer to do their own thing rather than fol­low the foot­steps of the founders. De­vij, who con­sciously chose not to join his fa­ther’s com­pany, in­stead started a shoe man­u­fac­tur­ing unit in Pune’s Yer­awada jail by the name of Ter­gus Works Pvt Ltd. This re­sulted in launch­ing ‘In­mate’ on April 1st, 2018.

It’s been a promis­ing be­gin­ning for In­mate. De­vij has been in the thick of things; he has al­lowed the com­pany to suc­cess­fully build a sus­tain­able busi­ness model. His swift rise in re­tail tes­ti­fies his ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but most of all shows how he leads an in­spir­ing com­pany cul­ture.

Ter­gus Works was es­tab­lished in 2016 with a vi­sion to ex­plore unique av­enues to de­velop the In­dian leather in­dus­try by mean­ing­fully ad­dress­ing prob­lems of la­bor, costs and stig­mas. Divej came up with the idea to pro­duce leather footwear in In­dia’s pris­ons while he was study­ing MBA in Sin­ga­pore. The idea started tak­ing shape three years later in 2017, when he reached out to Yer­wada Cen­tral Prison.

S&A in­ter­acted with the founder to find out more about In­mate. Ex­cerpt of the in­ter­view.

What’s In­mate all about?

In­mate, the eu­phemism for con­victs, en­vi­sions to of­fer a sec­ond chance to in­mates by train­ing and de­vel­op­ing skills in them. The brand aims at set­ting a bench­mark by suc­cess­fully em­ploy­ing the be­liev­ers (in­mates) in their post con­vic­tion pe­riod, en­sur­ing their liveli­hood and be­com­ing the first footwear brand to op­er­ate shoe fac­to­ries from pris­ons.

What’s the busi­ness phi­los­o­phy of the brand?

In­mate en­vis­ages re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for in­mates through skill and per­son­al­ity de­vel­op­ment, en­sur­ing in­di­vid­ual as well as col­lec­tive ex­cel­lence. This also si­mul­ta­ne­ously ad­dresses the con­cern of la­bor and high cost of pro­duc­tion, so that the In­dian Leather In­dus­try con­stantly rises to a higher level of achieve­ment.

“The found­ing prin­ci­ples of a busi­ness are what de­ter­mine how well it serves the so­ci­ety. In­mate is build­ing a rock solid foun­da­tion by em­pow­er­ing and work­ing to­wards the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of prison in­mates and giv­ing them pride in their work. It’s truly a great en­deav­our.” – Nazim Virji Re­gal Shoes

“I have been part of the footwear in­dus­try for over 30 years and launched many brands like Wood­land, Lotto, Crocs and Dis­ney footwear, but this Idea of Divej and Deepesh Me­hta for a project like In­mate touched the core of my heart. I hadn’t come across such a bril­liant and noble thought which trans­forms and re­ha­bil­i­tates prison in­mates into fac­tory work­ers and of­fers them a sec­ond chance in life to get re­formed. The mo­ment I heard from them this unique cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity project I de­cided to of­fer my ser­vices where ever I could con­trib­ute. Be­ing a mar­ket­ing per­son, I vol­un­teered my ser­vices as a brand con­sul­tant. The suc­cess of In­mate will give me much more happiness and sat­is­fac­tion than the launch of many brands, as this project helps me to give back to the in­dus­try what in­dus­try has given me in 3 decades,” – B. D. NATHANI Brand Con­sul­tant

What in­spired you to ven­ture into this project?

I have seen and grown up around the leather in­dus­try be­cause of my fa­ther. I had al­ways thought of join­ing the in­dus­try, but not merely to ad­vance the fam­ily busi­ness. It had to be some­thing dif­fer­ent which kept things interesting enough for me, to keep chal­leng­ing my­self which also al­lowed me to con­trib­ute to the in­dus­try in a pos­i­tive way. While work­ing on a project dur­ing my MBA I got a call from my dad, say­ing he had been asked to visit and as­sist footwear labour in­mates in Vel­lore Cen­tral Prison, Tamil Nadu. They had tools but lacked con­fi­dence and ef­fi­ciency, my fa­ther said. And the next thing I know is I have started work­ing on mak­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence my busi­ness model. It just felt right.

How re­cep­tive has the mar­ket been?

We launched In­mate via our web­site­in­ on 1st April 2018, and there­after started re­tail­ing the prod­ucts at select stores of Metro Shoes, Re­gal Shoes and Inc5 Shoes across 5 metro cities, namely Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Kolkata and Chen­nai.

What has been the con­sumer re­sponse?

It is very early to de­fine the mar­ket re­sponse, but we are on the track with our pro­duc­tion and strat­egy on en­ter­ing newer mar­kets to in­crease In­mate’s pres­ence.

How would you dif­fer­en­ti­ate your prod­ucts from the com­pe­ti­tion?

It’s been just over a month since we’ve started re­tail­ing, if you visit a store lo­ca­tion, you’d see mul­ti­ple op­tions, de­spite hav­ing just over 10 sku’s on shelves we’ve been sell­ing at an av­er­age of al­most 2 pairs a day.

Each pair of In­mate com­prises of at least 80% pre­mium qual­ity leather, that’s be­cause we use TPR Soles (Ther­mo­plas­tic Rub­bers) in­stead of leather soles that prom­ises dura­bil­ity. The mem­ory-foam makes the prod­uct ex­tremely com­fort­able to wear. We also don’t nec­es­sar­ily fol­low mar­ket trends or guide­lines. Our idea is to sell some­thing that we’d wear our­selves.

What does the brand have that is dif­fer­ent from oth­ers?

In­mate ful­fils the CSR needs of a com­pany; its roots speak of so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment for both, the so­ci­ety and the in­dus­try. Fur­ther, it also cre­ates aware­ness among the peo­ple in ful­fill­ing their so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity.

What is the ra­tio­nale be­hind the busi­ness ex­pan­sion?

We are present at a few MBO’S and will be look­ing at ex­pand­ing. We are plan­ning to launch leather ac­ces­sories un­der the same brand. Once we’re com­fort­able with hav­ing a wider range of prod­ucts, we will look at ex­clu­sive stores.

What are some of the chal­lenges that you are fac­ing?

Since the con­cept had never been tried be­fore, the ma­jor chal­lenge was to gather the un­der­stand­ing of how to work from a prison with in­mates who had no back­ground or knowl­edge of how to make footwear along with work­ing within the frame­work of rules and reg­u­la­tions of a prison. Time re­stric­tion, that we have to work with, also makes the en­deav­our very chal­leng­ing to scale up pro­duc­tion from a par­tic­u­lar unit.

Will we see an ag­gres­sive pres­ence of the brand in the mar­ket?

Definitely, we are gear­ing up to be present in all metro cities by next year’s end. We have a pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity of up to 200 pairs a day, and by Oc­to­ber 2018 we plan to have over 30 sku’s on the shelves. As de­mand rises we will look at ex­pand­ing into newer pris­ons and train more in­mates.

Have the in­mates joined your project post their re­lease?

We work with in­mates serv­ing life sen­tences. This al­lows us to have a long term com­mit­ment from a labour­ing pris­oner and helps us jus­tify the resources we drain on each of them. It also al­lows us more time to work on in­di­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ties to get them ready for a bet­ter to­mor­row. We have promised the in­mates we train with an as­sured job post their con­vic­tion pe­riod, if they wish to join us.

What would be the re­tail mar­ket­ing strat­egy in the com­ing years?

As of now, we are fo­cus­ing on in­creas­ing our pres­ence in the met­ros of In­dia. Once our goal of build­ing in In­dia is achieved, we would like to start re­tail­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“I have been a part of the leather in­dus­try for al­most four decades. When I heard about the idea from Divej about 5 years ago, I knew this was some­thing that had the po­ten­tial to do won­ders. Know­ing my son, I trusted my in­stincts and im­me­di­ately in­vested and started guid­ing him.” – Deepesh Me­hta “Ter­gus Works Pri­vate Lim­ited (In­mate) has been a revo­lu­tion­ary step for the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of the in­mates in the prison. The idea of pro­vid­ing in­mates with a sec­ond chance is what makes the idea beau­ti­ful, the pris­on­ers us­ing their pe­riod of con­vic­tion pro­duc­tively and de­vel­op­ing skill is the true sense of what pris­ons should be known as. Ab­sorb­ing these trained in­mates post con­vic­tion pe­riod gives us the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand this en­deav­our and en­cour­age more pri­vate com­pa­nies to share their ex­per­tise with us and per­haps re­ha­bil­i­tate with pride.” – U.T. Pawar Su­per­in­ten­dent, Yer­wada Cen­tral Prison, Pune

How in­te­gral is dig­i­tal me­dia for the brand?

Dig­i­tal me­dia has been the key for In­mate so far. Dig­i­tal me­dia, es­pe­cially for a start up like ours, will al­ways be im­por­tant. We, through our Facebook and Instagram han­dles (@by­in­mate), have got­ten a lot of trac­tion. The me­dia cov­er­age from mul­ti­ple news agen­cies has also been shared on dig­i­tal plat­forms, al­low­ing lakhs of peo­ple to gain knowl­edge of our en­deav­our.

You can’t al­ways get it right. Has there been an in­stance where things went com­pletely wrong?

It’s true, there have been mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions when I just didn’t know what to do next. Since I’m not tech­ni­cally strong, get­ting the prod­uct right took a while. The trial and er­ror method got frus­trat­ing at times, but it was the only way to do it given the unique­ness of the idea.

We had to make sure that ev­ery­thing was in sync, right from the en­try of raw ma­te­rial in­side a high se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity to get­ting the prod­ucts to the stores. Most times com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­came a prob­lem as com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices are pro­hib­ited within the prison premises.

In­dif­fer­ent at­ti­tude of pris­on­ers re­stricted train­ing and skill de­vel­op­ment. Their un­will­ing­ness to join the main­stream due to var­i­ous rea­sons and the in­her­ent trust deficit ag­gra­vated the prob­lem most times. Fur­ther, to work un­der the frame­work of rules and reg­u­la­tions of pris­ons made the en­deav­our very chal­leng­ing. There is a se­vere drain on time, en­ergy, resources and money con­sid­er­ing the above re­al­i­ties and other facts and cir­cum­stances of a life in jail of a pris­oner.

Could you share with the read­ers the most ex­cit­ing thing hap­pen­ing at your brand?

In­mates sav­ing their wages and send­ing money home to their loved ones which helped them re­unite, for some it was af­ter 7-8 years of no com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Pack­ing our first des­patch to re­tail the prod­ucts, the sight of numb eyes, tears of joy, happiness and the over­all sat­is­fac­tion is be­yond ex­pla­na­tion; the first time an in­mate open­ing up and talk­ing about how grate­ful he is to get this op­por­tu­nity for the first time in his life.

These are some of the best ex­pe­ri­ences that I will re­joice for the rest of my life, and will help me go on and face many more chal­lenges.

“The brand In­mate has all the el­e­ments, in terms of style, com­fort and pack­ag­ing, to give any in­ter­na­tional brand a run for their money. The most sur­pris­ing fact is on how Divej has man­aged to get im­pec­ca­bly flaw­less work done from the ama­teur in­mates, who are still learn­ing the skill. The brand has been well ac­cepted by our con­sumers and we are look­ing for­ward to adding more stores.” – Mushir Khan Metro Shoes

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