Tanner Leatherstein, who destroys luxury bags on TikTok, shares his tips on quality and value

One video begins with a large white leather bag covered in Louis Vuitton’s signature LV logo. Within milliseconds, a hand with a knife swoops in and makes a huge gash in the side of the bag before tearing it at the seams. In another, Christian Louboutin’s distinctive red sole is loudly ripped off a black stiletto heel with a wrench; In yet another, scissors cut through a $2,200 Prada bag before a man sets fire to a piece of leather, turning it to ashes.

You’ve entered the TikTok world of Tanner Leatherstein, who has over 950,000 followers. Leatherstein, whose real name is Volkan Yilmaz, has attracted a cult following on the social media platform, as well as YouTube and Instagram, for his carnage of exorbitantly expensive items. The reason, he says, is to show his viewers the true quality of the materials and craftsmanship and then break down how much the item may have cost to make.

“In many cases,” Yilmaz said from his Dallas workshop in December, “my estimates are about a tenth of what the price says. “The margins that support the luxury business still surprise many people.”

In the edited interview below, Yilmaz, 37, talked about her lifelong obsession with leather, how much she spends on luxury products for her platform, and what people should look for when purchasing new leather goods.

My family owned a tannery in Türkiye, so I was born into the business. Around 11, I tanned five sheepskins to make my first leather jacket. While at university in Istanbul, I worked in a tannery, then went to China to learn about leather imports and exports and then to Turkmenistan.

In 2009, I won the US Green Card lottery and moved to Chicago. I drove a taxi while studying for an MBA from the University of Illinois and then worked as a management consultant, which made me feel like I was dying inside. I was still obsessed with leather, so I started my own leather brand called Pegai, taught myself about the design side of things on YouTube, and drove Uber jobs to make ends meet. In 2019, once the business was up and running, I moved to Dallas.

Friends and even friends of friends have always asked me to review their leather purchases. What do I think of the quality? Have they paid too much?

It made me realize that people don’t really know much about how leather is sourced or used and are suspicious of the profit margins on luxury leather products. So I started making some videos to answer their questions. I didn’t expect them to explode like they did.

When I started reviewing bags, I wanted to show that price wasn’t really about the leather or materials used, but rather the condition associated with a label. Many people automatically assume that if it’s expensive, it must be good.

It was a Louis Vuitton briefcase. Louis Vuitton is one of the most famous leather brands in the world, but many people don’t know that the iconic LV monogram material is actually canvas. The first video that went viral was a small $1,200 Chanel wallet. Since then, requests to present different trademarks have been arriving non-stop.

The quality of the leather, of course. How it has been tanned. I use acetone to remove the finish and can see how much plastic makeup has been applied to the leather. I burn the leather to evaluate what tanning process has been used. Then I look at the craftsmanship, which is reflected in the stitching, hardware, and construction.

A big part of what I do is evaluate brand claims. A bag may look good from the outside, but when you open it and look inside, it tells a different story.

There is definitely a demographic that hates luxury brands, period, that thinks the price is a rip-off and that the people who pay for them are stupid. Then there are people who simply love the entertainment value of cutting up expensive products. But many people watch the videos because they love luxury and want to better understand quality products. They want to evaluate their luxury or vintage purchases with their eyes open.

Bottega Veneta uses incredible leathers and I have made three or four videos about their beautiful products. Although in one video, on a $650 wallet, I cut it out and the lining was made of a lower quality leather than described on the label. (Bottega did not respond to a request for comment.)

I really like a Scottish brand called Strathberry. They make their products in Ubrique, which is this small town in Spain where brands like Loewe and Dior make their products. But Strathberry is a fraction of the cost: more like $500 instead of $3,000. Polene is another great label created by people who really know what they are doing. The trainer is pretty good for a medium price.

I’m not surprised: I’m paying a lot of money. Great if we can show a bag with excellent material and design, but that should be the standard.

Not really, and especially not from the luxury space. I do not accept free articles or advertising opportunities. People will trust me only if I remain totally independent.

Trust your senses. Feel it. If it feels sticky, that’s not a good sign. Smell it. There is not a single leather smell, but rather there is a pleasant, slightly earthy aroma to quality leather. It should not smell like chemicals.

Look at it. Leather is a product of animal origin. It has variations in its grain and fiber structure. The more variations you see in the fabric, the more natural and untreated it will be. If you go overboard with a heavy finish, the leather becomes very standardized and can hide lower quality leathers.

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