With Dano Tingcungco’s Minsan, leather meets connection

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Intricate yet subtle, the designs of Dano Tingcungco are inspired by his upbringing and childhood. Photos courtesy of DANO TINGCUNGCO

Intricate yet subtle, the designs of Dano Tingcungco are inspired by his upbringing and childhood. Using leathers that are mostly sourced from Marikina, his products are entirely made by hand and designed for connection.

While Minsan first became available in a storefront in early 2022, the story of the brand dates back 11 years — starting with Tingcungco’s personalized approach to gift-giving. Once out of wedding gift ideas to a close friend, he toyed with the idea of making something of his own. “I was late to the registry and I couldn’t afford anything left on the registry, but I had a workshop,” said Tingcungco. “So I offered to make her shoes instead of getting her an overpriced plate set.”

Growing up in a family of shoemakers, all of his shoes were custom-made. “I learned foot tracing when I was just seven or eight years old,” said Tingcungco. He recalled his early memories of shoemaking and how he was often summoned to stand in the middle of their living room, surrounded by sheets of Manila paper and cartolina. “Back then, I didn’t know what all of it was for, like knowing how soles were assembled, how it was best to let rugby dry first before placing it on.”

For the seasoned news reporter, shoemaking caught up with him late in his life. He described his first attempt at making shoes as a wedding gift as a turning point. “The process of getting the measurements right, the cutting, the making of the pattern, the turning of a flat sheet of leather into something three dimensional — it was and is so much work,” he said. “It was so overwhelming and draining, but it woke something in me that I did not expect I would feel.” Since then, Tingcungco held on to this feeling and started a second career as a designer.

He started small, making coin purses and other small leather goods for Christmas presents for his friends and loved ones. Tingcungco relied on memories and experiential learning. “Everything I knew about shoemaking and leather, it was all at the back of my head,” he said. Tingcungco looked back on trips he made to his family’s workshop, time spent window shopping at the mall with his mother where she would quickly pinpoint the types of leather she laid her eyes on — thinking that his knowledge is the sum of all these moments.

And throughout his own process of exploring both disciplines of making shoes and leather crafts, he started to find himself as a maker. “I discovered I had a particular way of making and putting things together, of what I think a shoe or even a coin purse that would bear my name would look like.”

While clearly informed by strong shapes and bold colors, Tingcungco’s designs reference intimate details about him and his family. He cited a distinct burgundy leather he uses for his shoe designs, which he calls “Diliman” — an ode to his alma mater and a tribute to his mother’s favorite color. In the “Minsan universe,” Tingcungco calls a particular eye-catching shade of green leather “camias” for its resemblance to the fruit. “When I see an electric green or neon green leather, my heart jumps.”

The Pisíl is also inspired by Tingcungco’s love of techno raves. Wanting an accessory that suited an occasion he loves, he designed a bag that was hands-free and could transform on-demand — can be worn flat as to be unobtrusive when it’s crowded or expanded for more storage. The names are also self explanatory. “It’s called Pisíl because you have to pinch the top for it to be one dimensional,” he said.

The Pisíl and mini Pisíl bags. Photo courtesy of DANO TINGCUNGCO

Tingcungco underscores how his work as a reporter — covering justice and judiciary news as well as producing breaking stories — and as a designer mutually influence each other. As a reporter, Tingcungco is quick to learn what works and what doesn’t in daily life: a perspective he applies to his design approach, down to sizes, shapes and proportions. “Similarly, my work with Minsan impacts my storytelling,” he said. “Part of design is understanding the human experience and how people go about their life in order to design things that are made to live with people. And to do that effectively, you need to understand their story in full. So after my leather work and going to my day job, there is this greater awareness of the environment of a subject’s daily life.”

Tingcungco also shared that he only makes bags and objects that he himself would want to use. “It has to evoke a special feeling [in me] whether it’s through its shape, how it moves, or how it drops.” The Pigâ, a tote that can double as a soft clutch, takes after the idea of a day-to-night Barbie and is the answer to the problem of people who work but don’t have the luxury of going home to change before attending a social engagement in the evening. “Kung ano suot mo ng 8 a.m., ‘iyun na rin suot mo ng 8 p.m.,” he said.

The Pigâ bag. Photo courtesy of DANO TINGCUNGCO

His other designs are special requests from friends, which Tingcungco takes on as personal challenges. He recalled a friend who had diabetes coming to him for a pair of high heels that wouldn’t hurt her feet. This led him to the use of memory foam, which is present in the Pavilion.

Before a design is introduced to the public, it is put through Tingcungco’s test of harsh and extreme conditions. “I intentionally abuse prototypes on a night out because if it can survive a really good party, it can survive anything.”

Tingcungco credits stylist Melvin Mojica as his mentor and the catalyst for him to come into his own as a designer. Mojica describes Tingcungco’s approach as chaotic. “He is the opposite of calm, he likes to finish everything ASAP. I think that's the journalist in him,” said Mojica. He also highlights how Tingcungco’s strength lies in his knowledge, familiarity with leather and commitment to producing designs in small quantities to preserve their specialness.

Tingcungco with his mentor, Melvin Mojica. Photo courtesy of DANO TINGCUNGCO

For Tingcungco, the goal of the brand is intimacy and connection. Every Minsan piece is engineered and designed to be passed on, from him as the person who made it to the wearer and to the wearer’s next generation. “Through this passing on, the story evolves, the bag evolves, and its role and purpose to the wearer evolves.”

“A big part of Minsan’s story comes from memories, moments, feelings and encounters,” Tingcungco said. The name of the brand encapsulates how it all started in a way that is also an extension of him, as a journalist, a designer and as a son in a shoemaker’s family. The name “Minsan” reflects his story of return to leather, tracing back to the very moment he decided to gift his friends shoes as a wedding present. “That moment, which lasted for just like a minute, was fleeting but it changed the course of my life,” he said. “Imagine if I just bought that plate set instead, then I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

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