The Stories Behind: Singaporean Ash Samsudin becomes TikTok … – TODAY

SINGAPORE — Not long ago, the general manager of artisanal shoeshine and leather care store Mason & Smith, Ash Samsudin, used to be sceptical about uploading his work-related content on TikTok, writing off the social media app as a platform for “Gen Zs doing Gen Z stuff”.
Mr Ash Samsudin (pictured) beat two contestants from Japan and Norway to win a shoe-shining contest in London, England in mid-2022.
SINGAPORE — Not long ago, Ash Samsudin used to be sceptical about sharing his work-related content on TikTok, writing off the social media application as a platform for “Gen Zs doing Gen Z stuff”.
The 31-year-old, whose age ironically places him closer to Gen Zers than older generations, works as the general manager of Mason & Smith, an artisanal shoeshine and leather care store.
“Would any of them want to watch me shine shoes? Shoe-shining to them might look very old school, very boring,” he said.
And even after giving in to his curiosity for the TikTok app in late 2020, Mr Ash’s content was viewed only a few thousand times a post, seemingly justifying his earlier hunch.
However, a seven-second video uploaded in May this year “blew up his notifications” overnight and has chalked up 7.8 million views to date.
The content of the video itself was simple: It showed a glimpse of him shining a shoe, before cutting abruptly to him holding a gold medal that reads, “World Championship in Shoe Shining”.
Around half of the videos that he had put up since winning the competition has chalked up over 100,000 views each, with about 10 of them gaining millions of views each.
Though the content of the video in May was simple, the steps leading to it were far from so.
Mr Ash told TODAY recently that anyone from around the world — not just professionals such as him — can try to qualify for the competition, held in conjunction with the London Super Trunk Show, the world’s largest fair for classic men’s shoes open to the public, as described by its organiser. 
“It’s like Comic-Con for everything related to shoes,” Mr Ash said, referring to the foremost international convention in the comic-book scene.
Mr John Chung, founder and director of Mason & Smith, was the first Singaporean to win the shoe shining competition in 2018, which was an annual affair from 2017 until it was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Aspiring participants from around the world have to submit photos of their shine job, before only three will be picked to take part in the finals in London, England.
During the finals itself, contestants will be given 20 minutes to shine one shoe each while the the convention’s attendees watch them in action.
Preparation for that 20-minute feat was an almost-daily, gruelling affair for about two months.
“I remembered it was the Ramadan fasting month. After the pre-dawn meal (about 5.30am), we’ll start training until we open the store,” Mr Ash told TODAY.
Training would continue until late into the night after they shutter their store.
Aiding him in his preparation was Mr Chung, who this year qualified as a top three finalist for a new category called “shoe patina” in the competition, where participants are judged by how well they dye a given set of shoes.
Mr Ash admitted that he was pleasantly surprised by his own win at the 2022 World Championship in Shoe Shining.
What he was really looking forward to the most during the trip to the convention was to develop a deeper understanding of his trade by learning from the participating exhibitors of top shoe brands.
Mr Ash noted that since the viral seven-second video, he has seen a growing following for his TikTok account and to a certain extent, that following has spilled over into real life.
His TikTok account now has more than 121,700 followers, with an accumulative 2.6 million likes for all his videos.
“Even my mum now follows me on TikTok,” he said.
And although most of Mason & Smith’s customers comprised professionals aged from their mid-20s to early 40s, Mr Ash has also begun observing younger patrons walking through the store doors on Club Street near Chinatown.
“I’ve seen a number of followers on TikTok who came into the shop to buy shoe-care products,” he said.
“We also have full-time national servicemen coming in, bringing in their boots for a shine.”
Though he admitted that his trade is niche, almost to the extent of “dying”, Mr Ash is heartened by what he observed to be a growing interest here in people buying well-made dress shoes, as well as the shining and proper upkeep of such footwear.
Now, his own interest in TikTok has grown as well, even though not too long ago, in his own words, he was “so against” downloading the app.
He is making some effort these days to experiment with new things and go beyond his tried-and-tested content.
“We’re currently moving our store, so maybe I’ll shoot some moving-out videos. I’ll try to not do all on shoes, because it can be quite monotonous for the audience.”
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