An eminently useful money clip as described
by the best shoeshiner in Singapore.
President of Mason & Smith / ShoeshinerJohn Chung
Rather than being bored with gorgeousness, the feeling of liking lasts for decades.
Glenroyal wallets are timeless products.
John Chung is a young shoeshiner who opened “Mason & Smith”, Singapore’s first shoeshine bar, and then went on to win the World Shoe Shine Championship 2018 in London. Though he wouldn’t capture the same honour amongst all the footwear fans at the World Shoe Shine Championship Tournament held last September at Isetan Shinjuku,he is still one of the leaders in the shoe polishing industry. We took the opportunity to interview John about his love for Glenroyal during his visit to Japan.
A starting point in vintage shoes.
━What inspired you to become a shoeshiner?
Five years ago, I was working in Thailand purchasing vintage leather shoes to sell in Singapore. The thing is, while there was no shortage of good-quality footwear, many of the shoes were dirty and in bad shape. This led me to think that I need to learn how to clean and care for the shoes myself. Shoeshining culture hadn’t really caught on yet in Singapore back then. There were freelance shoeshiners, but not anyone doing shining and repair as their primary occupation. I studied on my own using YouTube and Instagram, and thanks to that I was able to learn about shoeshine masters in Japan and other parts of the world.
All of that became a sort of tailwind that inspired me to do shoeshining as a full-on business. There was a bit of a “shoes wave” going on in Singapore right around then, too, where people who maybe weren’t familiar with high-class leather shoes before were now beginning to take an interest. Still, there weren’t any shops stocking Joseph Cheaney shoes like you’ll find at mine, and even the department stores still only had things like mountain boots. I saw a business opportunity there to awaken the people of Singapore to the value of wearing good leather shoes, as well as giving them the care needed to use them for a lifetime.
A desire to establish the culture of leather footwear in Singapore.
━What can you tell us about Mason & Smith?
We actually just moved to a new location last year, but it’s a three-storey shop, with a shoeshine bar on the first floor where we also sell leather shoes I stock. The second floor is where we sell vintage footwear, and then on the third floor is our office and a space where we hold repair workshops. I’m happy to say that we’ve been getting more traffic lately, but Singapore is still a young nation just fifty years old and still a bit behind in terms of culture. In Japan there are plenty of brands and shops that offer good shoes everywhere, and many Japanese customers are concerned with things like the details and quality of leather shoes, as well as the shoeshining process. In Singapore people tend to be satisfied with simply having paid money to get some good shoes, or that shoes look nice once they’ve been shined. So, I want to inform people about all the work that goes into making and shining shoes. This is why we actively hold trunk shows with bespoke craftsman at Mason & Smith, and next year will hope to have three shoeshining champions, Yuya Hasegawa from Brift H, Go Ishimi from The Way Things Go, and Yuta Sugimura from Y’s Shoeshine, come do events at the store.
Improving skills through daily input and output.
━Are you doing any sort of self-improvement projects?
Our shop is closed every Wednesday, so I try to go running in the mornings then. I also set aside my Friday and Saturday evenings for “creativity”. Sometimes I’ll grab a drink and then read books on design or interiors, look over fashion magazines, watch a movie and so on…
It’s basically just my time for thinking about creative topics, and I don’t think about leather shoes as much as possible (laughs). I eat breakfast every day at 7 AM, and then do research from 8 to 10 AM. I keep regular tabs on the websites or SNS of bespoke craftspeople and shoeshine masters around the world so I can study up on marketing, design and, of course, shining shoes. I open up the shop after that I can then get started with my shoeshine training. If a customer comes in with some leather shoes I’ve never handled before, I’ll take pictures of the shoes’ make and details so I can look into them more later. Going through this cycle day by day is how I keep on top of my game.
A balance of good quality and "ergonomics".
━What sort of standards do you value when making purchases?
I’m not the type of wants a lot of different things so much as I am the type who is satisfied with having one or two items of exceptional quality. I prefer to spend a little extra and get something I can use for ten years or more than buy a cheap product that will only last me a year. A good example of this is this pair of Italian leather shoes by Cole Haan, which you don’t see around too often these days. I bought them as vintage, but thanks to the intricate needlework and careful craftsmanship I’ve been able to wear them for over five years. Another thing is that, while I do value good design, I also place a lot of importance on “ergonomics”. One of my customers who is a collector of Danish furniture taught me about the value of products that are created with the end user in mind. I believe that this applies not just to furniture, but all kinds of other things as well. Take these two brushes for instance. I’ve been using them ever since I started shoeshining, and they have proven so versatile that they’ve been my constant companions for the past five or six years. It’s the same with the Glenroyal pocket shoehorn that we stock at Mason & Smith. They’re just the right size to fit in a pocket and have a nice design to boot. The shoehorns have proven quite popular at our store as presents or souvenirs.
A wonderfully broad line-up and timeless UK atmosphere.
━What are your thoughts on Glenroyal?
In my mind, products from the UK have a timeless appeal to them. Some out there may prefer showier items with a lot of impact from Italy or France, but UK products have their fair share of fans as well. While their designs tend to be on the simple side compared to those of French or Italian items, I think that’s actually precisely why that initial love one feels when they buy a product from the UK lasts for decades. I think Glenroyal is the perfect example of what I’m talking about here. What surprised me about Glenroyal, though, is how expansive of a line-up they maintain despite being a veteran brand of such long history. I was impressed when I came to Japan for a shoeshining event by not only how many products they had at British Made Ginza, but also by how each of said products gave careful consideration to the end user. I fell in even deeper love with Glenroyal once I heard the brand’s story from the shop staff.
A compact size that fits the currency of Singapore nicely.
━Why did you choose this wallet with money clip?
I’ve never liked carrying coins, so I would always use a money clip since I didn’t need a big wallet. It was a simple model without any pockets for coins or cards, but I soon came to learn that there are simply times in life where you’re going to need both coins and cards (laughs). That’s when I came upon this Glenroyal wallet with money clip. It does have a coin pocket, but the compact design makes it great for business trips and other travel.
I always keep it in the left pocket of my pants, but it also fits inside the inner pocket of my jacket. It has plenty of space for cards, and holds tickets or receipts well, too. There’s no worry of both Japanese currency or that of Singapore sticking out, either. It’s a truly ergonomic design. My hands get pretty dirty in the process of shining shoes, so I wanted a colour that wouldn’t show those kinds of stains. Black felt a tad boring, though, so I went with navy blue instead. I like my wallets to look worn-in, so I never apply any cream and only brush it occasionally. And thanks to the tough nature of bridle leather, this has resulted in it having plenty of character. I’ve only owned the wallet for two years now, but I plan on getting many more years of use out of it.
photoTRYOUT textK-suke Matsuda（RECKLESS）
President of Mason & Smith / Shoeshiner
John Chung was born in 1992 in Singapore. He taught himself about shoe repair and maintenance while selling vintage footwear, and in the process became fascinated with shoeshining. He began to build experience as a shoeshiner working in hotels in 2014, before opening Singapore’s first shoeshine bar, Mason & Smith, 2015. John went on to win the championship at a London shoeshining tournament in 2018.
photoTRYOUT textK-suke Matsuda（RECKLESS）