If you happen to catch up with MTV VJ Daniel Mananta these days, you might hear him saying "DAMN!". A lot.
Don't be offended. He doesn't mean to be rude or anything. He's just doing it for business.
Yes: The fashionable hunk is busy spreading the word on his latest clothing label DAMN, derived quite innocently from his name. The label may sound Western, but Daniel's debut T-shirt collection comes with a distinctive local flavor: Indonesian culture rules.
Under his premium line "DAMN! I love Indonesia", Daniel goes wild with designs drawing on batik patterns, wayang (traditional puppet) characters such as Petruk, Gareng and Arjuna, and Balinese mythic hero Barong. And his craze doesn't stop there: He brings Indonesian heroes Bung Tomo and Raden Ajeng Kartini into the spotlight. All of the designs come in colorful urban/contemporary blends.
"Well, it all started from my concern about young people today, who seem to have less appreciation for our country," the 28-year-old single guy says. "A friend of mine, for example, complained all the time about Indonesia. And I thought: *Hey, what's up with you, man? Why are you only exposing the negative side of our country? There are heaps of good things about Indonesia, too!'"
So when coming up with a concept for his clothing business, Daniel decided to share some of the good things about Indonesia that are worth being proud of: its local culture and heroes. And so far, he says, the business has done him good. Although it takes up a good half of his time, Daniel is happy to be back to where he started a long time ago: selling clothes.
The clothing business isn't anything new for him. After graduating from Edith Cowan University's Business School, in Australia, Daniel didn't launch his career with a fancy job. Instead, he helped his father run his clothing store at Mangga Dua shopping center in North Jakarta.
"After I graduated from university, no companies *in Australia* wanted to hire me," Daniel recalls. "I kept getting rejections. All I got was an internship at Citibank - and that was only for three weeks."
So, he says, he had no choice but to go back to Jakarta, helping his father at the store.
"It was in 2003 and my job back then was as boring as hell. All I did was sit around and greet customers," says Daniel, who is also the host of Indonesian Idol. "After a few months, I got so depressed that I prayed, *God, please, please, give me another job!'" he adds, laughing.
"I mean all those times I felt like my life was pretty much predestined. My dad and his siblings are all merchants and they have stores in Mangga Dua. And my cousins? Don't ask, they also have stores there. So I just wanted to try something else."
Luckily for Daniel, God was listening. Not long afterward, he spotted a television advertisement for the MTV VJ Hunt. He submitted his application along with a video titled One Day with Daniel, which showed his activities as a merchant in Mangga Dua. The entertaining video won the hearts of the judges and he was named one of 10 finalists.
"At first I didn't feel confident," he says. "I was the only one *of the finalists* who didn't have a background in entertainment. The others had a touch of modeling, acting or deejaying experience."
But beyond his wildest expectations, Daniel won the competition.
"I suddenly felt my life's puzzle had been solved," says Daniel, who had previously joined multilevel marketing (MLM) companies Amway and Network 21 to earn some money. "I realized how my past jobs *as a salesman and MLM agent* helped me a lot because I had to deliver many presentations back then," he adds.
Daniel also realized how he much he had loved to act like a presenter back in high school.
"Well, I never revealed this to any reporter before. . Twelve years ago, I had my first tape recorder and I used it to play pranks in class.
"I went around interviewing my friends and made reports as if I was a presenter!" Daniel laughs.
"And recently, I found the cassette and when I played it, God, *the little Daniel* sounded like I am now! The way I presented reports back then was really the same."
So yes, he says, he believes that the presenter job is his true calling. Perhaps because of that, Daniel didn't get too excited when he was offered some recording deals. "I know who I am. I know my vocal limits," he says.
And with his rising popularity, Daniel isn't being an opportunist either. After taking a main role in the sinetron (soap opera) I Love You Boss in 2006, Daniel hasn't appeared in any other productions, except in a movie titled Macabre, which will be released soon.
"I'm a bit reluctant about acting in sinetron," Daniel reveals. "Our people tend to get bored and I'm not the kind of person who wants to show up all the time."
But Daniel certainly wants more for his presenter career. Recently, he says, he visited Singapore to look for any available opportunities to spread his wings across the Asian region.
"If you ask me how much I want to develop my career internationally, my answer is: I want it badly!" he says. "But it happens that in Singapore, the recession has been bad. *TV stations* have to reduce working days and they cut the presenters' salary by 20 percent.
"So maybe it's not the right moment yet," Daniel smiles. "I'll just have to wait."
But at least, Daniel can have some sweet times while he waits as he keeps himself busy with his clothing business, which is getting positive feedback. He was happy to learn some of his fans came to his store, The Other Culture, on level 6 of the FX Lifestyle Center, Central Jakarta, to get his tees.
"You have no idea how it feels," he says. "My friends even told me, when they wore my T-shirts in Vietnam, New Zealand and Canada, they got so many compliments from the locals."
Which is just as well. "I'm glad my tees can promote Indonesia in other countries: That's my mission."