Damn! Daniel Mananta Loves Indonesia

Lisa Siregar

The word "damn" may sound a little harsh in the ears of many. However, to Indonesian music host and entrepreneur Daniel Mananta, it is not only catchy, it is also a mix of his own name. So when he decided to set up his own clothing store four years ago, he put the word in the brand.

Damn! I Love Indonesia is slowly but steadily growing, with five stores in Jakarta, Surabaya and Makassar, and now an e-commerce website.

"Damn can also contain some excitement, and if I used a swearing word in Indonesian, it would put it out of the context," said the MTV VJ during the soft launch of his online shop in Jakarta on Wednesday.

This also answers the question of why he uses English words while selling products that appeal to nationalism.

"The way I see it, I am promoting our culture through pop culture, and I really want foreigners to know that Indonesia is more than just batik," he said.

"I have met a lot of foreigners who appreciate our culture more than we do, and for me that's just really sad," he added.

Daniel, 31, entered the showbiz industry after winning a VJ competition for MTV Indonesia in 2003. He has appeared in the local slasher film "Rumah Dara" ("Macabre") and this year, Daniel went from acting talent to executive producer for a second film by the directors of "Rumah Dara."

On the social media platform Twitter, Daniel has a massive following of more than 1.5 million people.

Other than being a VJ, TV host and an actor, Daniel has also been working hard to become an entrepreneur. Damn! I Love Indonesia is getting more exposure year after year, and he also has a few other businesses, such as a modeling and talent agency.

"It's not that I'm afraid I will be getting fewer TV jobs someday, but I just like doing business," Daniel said. "As you can see with Indonesian presenters and actors, they survive in the industry even though they age, so I'm not worried at all."

Damn! I Love Indonesia has been getting endorsements from high-profile celebrities who have recently visited Jakarta, from David Beckham to the Backstreet Boys and Adam Levine of Maroon 5, all of whom were photographed while wearing the T-shirt. As for getting Adam Levine to wear the shirt on stage, it was by the band's request. They seemed to have remembered the brand after Daniel asked them to sign one of the T-shirts last year. When he got the request, Daniel was so ecstatic that he nearly gave out every shirt they had in the store.

"I gave a few apparels to the band and I must say I'm really proud to see Adam wearing it on stage," he said.

As for getting local celebrities, Daniel did admit a few difficulties in scoring agreements to collaborate with them. International brands, such as Topshop, are known for releasing special collections by celebrities, and Daniel has been trying to find a way to do this.

"It seems that it's quite difficult to do this here, and it's probably not a common strategy, but I would be proud if I could do it," he said.

On Wednesday, Daniel announced his new project, Damniloveindonesia.com, which is the online embodiment of his clothing line. In entering the e-commerce world, Daniel teamed up with creative investor and film company Octovate Group. Octovate Group has an extensive range of clients including the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Daniel talked about his new project passionately, adding that he felt the need to share the load work because he was still learning the ropes of running an online business. The website took several months to build and fine-tune, and has now been transformed into something that attempts to go beyond just simple selling and into the realm of crowd-sourced commerce.

Bernhard Subiakto from Octovate said that Indonesia has a huge potential market for e-commerce, with a growing number of people buying products online every year.

"Right now, we only have 3.5 million e-commerce users, but the number doubles every year, so it is something that we have to anticipate," Bernhard said.

To add an element of fun and excitement, the website offers a chance to win a 10 percent discount on orders, and it also hosts design competitions.

Caroline Sunarko, the general manager of the website, said the online store is aimed at young people aged 15 to 30 who live in urban areas and prefer street and casual wear.

And Daniel is getting further support from his family. His father is a garment industry veteran with more than 20 years experience under his belt. Daniel said he often consults with his father about decisions related to running the brand.

He added that another perk of running a business that focuses on Indonesia's culture, heritage and history was that he could keep learning about his homeland.

"A friend of mine discovered an endangered pattern from Jailolo, Papua, and only the older generation was familiar with it," Daniel said. "None of the younger generation were able to paint it."

It is one of his dreams to preserve local patterns through his clothing line. Although Damn! I Love Indonesia mainly sells casual wear, Daniel said it was possible to keep patterns alive through graphic design.

It's a long ways from his days as a student in Australia, where he would often feel homesick. But it was during those tough times that he came up with idea of rebranding Indonesia's culture in a hip, youthful way. He launched Damn! I Love Indonesia on "Youth Pledge Day," on Oct. 28, 2008.

"Honestly, I have not been getting profits from Damn! I Love Indonesia for my own savings. Every profit we make I turn into a new store," he said. "Luckily, I'm still getting other jobs to put food on the table."

He plans to build new stores in Kalimantan, Sumatra and Papua, and would like to expand to foreign countries.

By entering the e-commerce sector, Daniel hopes that Damn! I Love Indonesia will be getting more fans soon.

"I want to make 'I Love Indonesia' as popular as those 'I Love NY' T-shirts," he said.