Reporter and leather designer Dano Tingcungco revisits the visual imaginings that led him to Minsan Objects.
It’s that time of the year in the Tingcungco household. Sheets of manila paper and cartolina are spread out on the floor, and the family—a set of grandparents, a set of parents, and three young siblings—gathers around. A ritual is about to take place. After lunch (and this is crucial), the eldest child awaits his turn. When it comes, he steps onto the fragile sheets, standing still as his grandfather crouches down to trace his feet. Dano is getting custom-made shoes for the school year.
“That was my first exposure to the idea of bespoke or made-to-measure footwear. At the time, I didn’t really pay much mind to it because I thought everyone had that,” he reveals. “Actually, I was kind of jealous of people who were buying their shoes in the mall or in the department store.”
The annual tradition was a family affair. Dano’s grandfather, Wenceslao Tingcungco, was a celebrated Marikina shoemaker from the ’60s to the ’90s. “My grandfather had a reputation in their circle of shoemakers at the time. He’s very uncompromising with the quality of the shoes. He will inspect every inch, every millimeter, every centimeter.” An excess smudge of rugby or uneven stitch wouldn’t go unnoticed. Others may exercise leniency on virtually invisible flaws, but the late Tingcungco insisted on redoing a whole shoe if it meant crafting it pristine. It was from him that Dano learned to measure a client’s feet after lunch, after they swell from a morning’s worth of activities.
Dano’s parents were in the business too, occasionally making footwear, but mostly helping Dano’s grandfather with marketing and liaising with companies. They didn’t compel their children to carry out the family business. Describing his upbringing as “very liberal,” Dano was encouraged to do whatever he wanted to do. “My whole plan in life was to be a writer. When I was young, I was reading a lot of things from books to magazines to shampoo labels. I was so fascinated by it,” he shares.
After graduating from the University of the Philippines-Diliman’s journalism program, Dano signed with GMA Network as a news correspondent. At present, he is a news producer for the network, where he has thrived for the past 16 years.
Shoemaking found Dano again in 2011, when a close friend of his was getting married. By the time he viewed the registry, the only unclaimed items were a set of plates (which were too expensive) and a couple of trinkets (which weren’t meaningful enough for a dear friend). So Dano decided to make her a pair of shoes.
“The act of designing that very first shoe was very difficult,” he recalls. But once he finished, there came a slew of revelations: “Why did I wait for a long time to start this? It’s something that I feel I could do. Or, not just feel like I could do,” he backtracks, “it’s something I feel I should be doing—to honor my family’s history with leather and shoe making.”
His shoemaking practice began on an on-and-off basis; there were times when Dano wouldn’t produce anything for a year. By the time he officially returned to leatherwork, it was 2019. “That’s when I swore to myself, ‘No, I’m not gonna leave this anymore.’”
His newly-solidified conviction allowed him to finally find a harmony between journalism and leather craftsmanship. Letting out a hearty laugh, he confesses, “It’s not easy. I don’t have much rest, that’s for sure.” If most people have the luxury of downtime after clocking out of work, for Dano, it’s the time he spends developing Minsan. But sometimes, he admits, they intersect, because inspiration comes from random places. He’s inspired by what he calls “visual imaginings” gathered from music, art, childhood memories, shapes, and daily lived experiences.
He’s also inspired by conversations, particularly with his good friend and mentor, stylist Melvin Mojica. “I think he changed my life when he told me, ‘Designer ka,’” Dano says. The stylist became instrumental in Dano’s decision to form Minsan Objects in 2021.
He launched with Pavilion, a series of leather mules in a fluid patchwork style, inspired by Filipino slippers from the ’30s. Then came the bags: Pipî (reversible tote), Pisíl (convertible round bag), Pigâ (drawstring purse), Pitó (trapezoid tote), and Plantsa + Palaman (2-in-1 flat-iron-shaped bag with an interior drawstring pouch). Minsan’s latest offering is Pura, a pair of tie-up Mary Janes.
All wares are made of smooth leather in a variety of rich hues christened with Filipino names. Minsan’s canary yellow is called Kasoy, while their Yale blue is called Tarpolin.
Each item’s multi-functionality is achieved through generous straps that Dano intentionally elongated for play. By design, the brand’s products are highly modular, constructed to be used in a myriad of ways. Fashioning meaningful objects isn’t just a creative choice for the designer, but an obligation. “Out of respect for the artisans that devoted hours of their lives to put together that piece, your job as a designer is to honor that process by making sure that the piece is actually used, and not kept in a closet, or a drawer, or forgotten.”
A self-branded “reporter sa umaga, sapatero sa gabi,” [a reporter in the day, a shoemaker at night] Dano understands too how people’s roles change throughout each day. As if on cue, he shows me the Palaman, his bag of choice this morning. Holding up the drawstrings which are tied together, he says, “This is a shoulder bag right now.” Tucking the makeshift shoulder strap into the purse, he continues, “But the rules change a lot. So what if kailangan ko siya maging clutch? [So what if I need it to be a clutch?] I can do that. That’s one of the things that Melvin taught me. He made me realize that there’s no such thing as a perfect bag. But any bag can be perfect for what it is made for.”
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