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via TikTok (@tanner.letherstein)

Meet the viral TikToker chopping up Gucci, Chanel, and Bottega Veneta bags

Volkan Yilmaz, aka Tanner Leatherstein, has taken over the platform with quality control videos that hack luxury leather goods apart

On first glance, TikTok account @tanner.letherstein could easily be labelled a viral gimmick. The account dedicated to dismembering designer bags by the likes of Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Bottega Veneta hits the spot when it comes to the shock factor, with many of his videos racking up millions of views. But when speaking to Volkan Yilmaz, the owner of the account, it becomes abundantly clear he’s an expert in leather and craftsmanship. 

“I made my first leather jacket from sheep skin when I was eleven years old,” explains Yilmaz, who, at 36, has accumulated over 25 years of knowledge through working with the material. Now, however, he’s more interested in picking leather goods apart, as he interrogates whether those expensive it-bags and accessories are really worth the cash. 

Through cutting, burning and testing the leather of each item, Yilmaz uses his videos as a tool to educate and examine the standards of “luxury” leather, in a bid to break the consumerist habit of buying big names and brand status over high quality leather. Importantly, however, he doesn’t preach, detailing benefits on both sides and leaving it up to the viewer to come to their own conclusion. 

Here, he breaks down what he does, why he does it, and which bags you’re best spending your hard-earned cash on.

Hey Volkan! So first of all, what are the key aspects you look for when inspecting the bag for its quality?

Volkan Yilmaz: The most important aspects are the leather and the tanning. I examine the leather selection, the quality and the finish, the way it shows or hides the leather. Once you overdo it, the leather becomes standardised and plasticised. I enjoy natural authentic leather grain, which makes every item unique.

In your videos, you conduct tests on the leather to investigate quality. Can you explain what the acetone test is?

Volkan Yilmaz: Acetone is a heavy solvent, the same you use to remove nail polish, so when I apply acetone to leather, it dissolves the finish and I can see how much plastic was applied on top of the grain. I get to see what's really underneath. 

When it comes to leather finishes, think of it like make-up. A heavy finish is like applying a lot of foundation to your face to cover up imperfections, but too much can mask your natural character. Animals have marks from a lifetime, they have bush scratches, imperfections caused by skin diseases, the signs of the climate and geography of where they came from, so not every leather is naturally clean.

In order to use a minimal finish, you really need to select the top five per cent of the cleanest rawhide (animal skin), but that is rare and expensive. Which is why many businesses go for a heavy finish because you can use lower quality leather and still achieve a uniform, standardised appearance by applying a thick layer of plastic on top and hot stamping a pattern that gives the impression of leather. It's a more cost-effective option, but it also means sacrificing the authenticity and uniqueness of the material. That's what I'm looking out for.

And what about the ash test?

Volkan Yilmaz: I burn the leather to find out what tanning it has. Tanning is the process we use to preserve rawhide to make it a durable and long-lasting material. Different tannings give the leather different characteristics, and when they burn and leave ash differently. Vegetable tanning leaves ash similar to wood, while chrome tanning is more fire retardant and leaves green residue, which is the chromium chemical. That way I find out if the leather is actually what it’s claimed to be. 

Im curious, do you buy luxury bags yourself?

Volkan Yilmaz: Yes. I buy them myself, out of my own pocket. I don't make direct income from TikTok. I don't take advertising or promotions. I'm building an audience who trusts my knowledge and that isn’t cheap, but in the future, this might build interest in my own brand, Pegai.

From all the bags youve deconstructed, which were the most well-made.

Volkan Yilmaz: In terms of super high luxury, Bottega Veneta impressed me the most. They keep their leather premium with minimal finishes. They’re using very intricate woven designs and their craftsmanship is extremely sophisticated. I have huge respect for them. You pay $2,500, but you get something truly special. 

At the mid-price point, I really appreciate Coach. They have good leather selection, good crafts, and fair prices. They’re really trying to stay true to the leather business. 

On the lower end, I would say Fossil has been pretty impressive. Not all of them, but they have some leather selections that I really like and their prices are really really good. 

What are your opinions on vegan leather?

Volkan Yilmaz: I deconstructed vegan cactus leather from Fossil. It was pretty durable, scratch-resistant, weather resistant, and it kind of looks like leather in a standardised format. It won’t last as long as leather, it will start breaking apart at some point, but I have respect for its need and innovation. 

However, I would tell people to be careful about fake vegan leather. Faux leather is not vegan leather. The true essence of vegan leather is something made from vegetable sources, which is renewable and sustainable. But businesses ride market trends, using faux leather with a fabric base and polyethene cover – which is essentially plastic. 

What are the best alternatives to designer handbags that you found in terms of quality?

Volkan Yilmaz: Look for your local craftsmen and your Etsy craftsmen – they work with artisan leathers for affordable prices, but styles are often quite simple. There’s a gap in the market between the local craftsman and luxury fashion houses, so brands like Polene, Mlouye, and my brand Pegai, come at the intersection of high-quality leather, craftsmanship, and sophisticated design. 

What tips can you give us to look out for when buying?

Volkan Yilmaz: Use your senses. When you touch really good artisan leather, you will connect with it, listen to your fingers. Then look for variations and imperfections, the grain pattern will change, one side will look slightly different to another, which is a true sign of authenticity. 

How does it smell? Does it smell earthy and pleasant? Not all leather smells the same, it depends on the tanning, colour, or finish, but if there’s a chemical smell, it’s a sign that it’s been messed with, or maybe it’s plastic. 

Lastly, the easiest part is reading the label or description. If the brand is proud of their leather selection and craftsmanship, they can’t talk enough about it. They will list its assets, it could be ‘full grain’, ‘top grain’, ‘vegetable tanned' or ‘Italian calfskin’. But if descriptions are vague like ‘cowhide’ or ‘genuine leather’, they're obviously not so proud.