Faux suede or vegan suede is an animal-friendly alternative mostly made from polyester or polyurethane, a synthetic leather-like textile made from petroleum-based thermoplastic polymers. It's a very cheap and versatile material used for clothing, shoes, accessories, furniture, and upholstery.
Unfortunately, suede leather and faux suede fabrics aren't the most ethical or environmentally friendly. They have a catastrophic impact on people, animals, and the planet.
Leather tanning not only makes billions of animals suffer every year, but it's also highly damaging to the environment, ecosystems, and human health.
Polyester is the most popular and widely used synthetic fabric in the world. But it isn't biodegradable and contributes to the increasing global plastic pollution that destroys wildlife and nature.
Here is the truth about suede leather and faux suede fabrics that most companies are hiding from you.
In this article:
- What is suede fabric?
- What is suede material made of?
- What are the different types of suede fabric?
- What is suede cloth used for?
- Is suede fabric good for sofas?
- What is the difference between suede and faux suede?
- How can you tell real suede?
- Is leather better than suede?
- Does suede last a long time?
- Is suede expensive?
- Is suede waterproof?
- Is suede low quality?
- Can suede be washed?
- Is suede a by-product?
- What does vegan suede mean?
- How is vegan suede made?
- Is faux suede toxic?
- Is vegan suede eco-friendly?
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What is suede fabric?
Suede fabric is a leather-like textile made from the hide torn from the underside of animals. Real suede is similar to leather with a very soft and smooth surface.
Suede fabric is generally softer and thinner than leather since it's made from the underside of the animal hide. On the other hand, regular leather is commonly made from the exterior of the animal skin.
In French, "Gants de Suede" means gloves from Sweden, and that's where the term suede comes from. Suede has been considered a high-end luxury since the 20th century for its soft and delicate surface.
What is suede material made of?
The highest quality leather is made from very young animals that have smooth skin, and no scratch or parasite yet. That's why suede is generally made from lambskin. But it's also made from the hide of other animals such as calves, buffaloes, goats, pigs, sheep, and deer.
The leather industry kills animals very young to preserve the smoothness and softness of their skin. And the most expensive leather is made from young animals, some even unborn, taken from their mother's wombs, purely to preserve quality.
Suede manufacturers separate the underside of the animal skin from the top. They create a thin, smooth, softer leather of the more delicate animal hides to make suede fabric.
Leather is a very lucrative business. Skins and hides are the most valuable parts of animals. And leather goods like soft suede fabrics are produced first and foremost to meet consumers' demand.
What are the different types of suede fabric?
Suede is the term used to describe a large family of soft leather-like materials used for their smoothness and quality. Suede fabrics are used for different applications as many types of suede with various properties exist.
Lambskin suede is the softest and smoothest type of suede fabric. It's made from the skin of very young lambs and is well-known to be delicate, lightweight, and with a soft hand feel.
Sheepskin suede is a soft, leather-like material made from the underside of sheep hides. As soon as they don't produce enough wool, sheep are killed for their meat and skin. Sheepskin suede leather typically has the fur removed before tanning.
Calfskin suede is a form of suede leather made from the skin of calves. Animals are still young when they are killed for their meat and skin to preserve the material quality.
Cowhide suede is a rough form of suede fabric made from the underside of cowhides. Since the animals are older before being killed for their meat and skin, the resulting leather is thicker and rougher.
Deerskin suede is made from the underside of deerskin. It's usually thick and durable and not as smooth as suede made from lambskin. This type of suede fabric is rare with limited availability.
Pigskin suede is a heavier type of suede fabric made from the rough and thick underside of pigskin. It's highly durable and can last several years.
Goatskin suede is made from the underside of goatskin. It differs in quality, texture, and appearance from the other types of suede based on the animal it's made from, goats.
Faux suede is a synthetic textile commonly made from polyester or polyurethane, a man-made material derived from thermoplastic polymers. It's much cheaper to produce, easier to care for, strong, and durable. Faux suede is also known as fake suede or vegan suede.
Microsuede is a type of man-made microfiber, a completely synthetic material made from polyester microfibers. It's derived from petroleum-based chemicals or petrochemical products. Polyester is also known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Alcantara is a brand name for a fully synthetic microfiber material. It's super soft and smooth, feels like real suede, and is commonly used in automotive applications as a substitute for leather.
Alcantara was developed in the early 1970s by Dr. Miyoshi Okamoto, who worked for the Japanese chemical company Toray Industries. It's now made by an Italian joint venture Alcantara S.p.A. owned by Toray and Mitsui.
Ultrasuede is a brand name for a synthetic microfiber textile with a soft texture and feel. It's highly praised for its premium quality, versatility, and functionality. It was first invented in 1970 by Dr. Miyoshi Okamoto, who worked for Toray Industries.
What is suede cloth used for?
Suede cloth is a buttery soft leather-like textile widely used in many applications, including fashion, clothes, shoes, accessories, furniture, upholstery, automotive, and more.
Many designers used suede fabric to create luxury jackets, coats, overshirts, blazers, hats, caps, handbags, sneakers, mocasins, espadrilles, boots, gloves, belts, and more.
Suede is also used to make beddings, household textiles, home decor, carpets, drapes, bed sheets, and curtains like other soft and luxurious fabrics.
Is suede fabric good for sofas?
Suede fabric is a natural, soft, delicate material made from animal skins. It's difficult to keep in good standing, clean, and care for. For sofas, couches, chairs, and furniture that are used a lot, faux suede is a better alternative as it's fully synthetic, durable, and easier to clean.
What is the difference between suede and faux suede?
The main difference between suede and faux suede is that suede is a type of leather made from the underside of animal hides. Faux suede, unlike real suede, is fully synthetic and made from polyester or polyurethane, a petroleum-based thermoplastic polymer.
Faux suede is much cheaper to produce than real suede made from leather. It's easier to care for, strong, and durable, and can also be produced in a wider variety of styles, patterns, and colors than real suede can.
Faux suede is an artificially made leather-like textile and is also known as fake suede or vegan suede. It's an animal-friendly alternative, completely cruelty-free and vegan.
Other kinds of artificial leather include PVC leather. Some leather alternatives are also made from renewable and natural sources such as wood, food waste, or algae.
How can you tell real suede?
To tell real suede from faux suede, simply look at the labels. The label may say polyester or polyurethane for faux suede. Real suede is often deliberately mislabeled, unfortunately. If labels are missing, check the retail price. Faux suede is usually much cheaper than real suede.
Real suede is made from the underside of animal hides. Its production often occurs in countries where animal welfare laws are non-existent. There is no easy way to trace what animal was killed to make suede products you find in high street stores.
Faux suede is also water-repellant. You can try a water test to differentiate real suede. Fake suede won't absorb any liquid, whereas genuine suede made from animal skins generally will.
You can tell if polyester or polyurethane is used with the look, feel, and smell of the item if you are familiar with leather products like suede. Fake suede often has a synthetic, plastic, or chemical look, feel, and smell that real suede doesn't have.
Real suede has some imperfections, grain, and small bumps throughout the skin. In comparison, faux suede is almost perfect and also lightweight, a little lighter than real suede.
Real suede tends to get better looking and softer over time. In contrast, faux suede is fully synthetic and maintains a consistent look and feel throughout its life.
However, the appeal of fake suede is its appearance and texture close to that of genuine suede. It's difficult to tell the difference just by looking at it.
Is leather better than suede?
Suede is a luxury fabric well-known for its soft surface, texture, and hand feel. It's made from the underside of young animal hides to preserve quality. Leather is stronger and more durable than suede because it's thicker, heavier, and made from the exterior of animals.
Does suede last a long time?
Suede is a leather-like, durable material that lasts a long-time. It's soft, smooth, delicate, and commonly made from the skins of young animals. So it isn't as strong and tough as thick leather but can last several years.
Is suede expensive?
Suede is an animal-derived material and is expensive, sometimes more than leather. Suede is a very soft and smooth type of leather made from the underside of animal hides. It's a luxury fabric that requires high-quality skins and hides without damage, scratch, parasite, or contamination.
Skins and hides are the most valuable parts of animals, and leather production is a very lucrative business. Animals are killed very young to preserve the smoothness and softness of their skin to make suede.
Is suede waterproof?
Suede is made from animal skins and isn't waterproof. It needs to be treated with a special coating or waterproofing spray made from synthetic chemicals to shield its surface from water.
Suede is a very soft and delicate leather-like material that isn't water-resistant naturally. Most manufacturers use a special treatment to enhance fabric properties and make them resistant to harsh weather.
Is suede low quality?
Suede is a natural and high-quality fabric made from the underside of animal hides. It's very soft, comfortable, lightweight, breathable, and moisture absorbent. Suede is also highly resistant and durable with a luxurious look and feel.
Suede is used in many types of fashion products by apparel brands and clothing designers around the world. It's a type of leather used in garments, shoes, and accessories for its softness, smoothness, and leather-like appearance.
Can suede be washed?
Suede can be washed by hand with cold water at a temperature lower than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). It's best to avoid cleaning suede in the washing machine.
Taking good care of suede textiles is one of the best ways to ensure that they last longer. Give special attention to suede clothes as they won't resist high temperatures.
Before cleaning suede fabrics, read the care instructions that you can find on the care tag. This way, you can determine if the material is washable.
It's best to use lower water temperatures to save money and resources. It reduces water and energy consumption and preserves suede fabric quality.
Don't use any chlorine-based or strong detergent when cleaning suede. Use a gentle and natural soap instead.
Do not dry suede fabrics in a tumble dryer either. They don't have a high thermal resistance. So the dryer reduces their durability and risk damaging the material.
A more sustainable way of drying suede is to let it air-dry. Place suede textiles in fresh air rather than using a dryer. It preserves their quality and saves energy.
You can easily lay suede fabrics down on a towel for a while, then flip them over. Try to avoid hangers. Instead, place suede clothes on a flat surface to help them dry naturally.
Is suede a by-product?
A common misconception is that suede is simply a by-product. Suede is so much more than just a by-product of the meat industry. It's a booming industry on its own and a very lucrative business. The most expensive leather is made from exotic and very young animals to preserve quality.
A lot of leather comes from animals being slaughtered for their meat. All animal products and by-products are interdependent. Animal parts are sold not to minimize waste but to maximize profits.
Many people believe that they prevent more waste by buying and wearing leather or suede clothing, shoes, and accessories.
But the skins and hides are the most valuable parts of animals. And leather goods are produced first and foremost to meet consumers' demand.
Animals are killed very young to preserve the smoothness and softness of their skin. The best leather quality comes from skins and hides that don't have any damage, scratch, parasite, or contamination yet.
Most of the leather and suede worn in the United States comes from Asia. The top producers of leather goods in Asia are China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. Most animals are slaughtered for their skins in these countries as well.
What does vegan suede mean?
Vegan suede refers to a leather-like material that is completely synthetic and resembles suede leather made from the underside of animal hides. Also known as faux suede or fake suede, vegan suede is an animal-friendly alternative mostly made from polyester or polyurethane.
The synthetic textile is made from petroleum-based thermoplastic polymers. It's a very cheap and versatile material used for clothing, shoes, accessories, furniture, and upholstery.
How is vegan suede made?
Vegan suede is a man-made leather-like material made from polyester or polyurethane. It's completely synthetic and artificially made from thermoplastic polymers and produced by a condensation polymerization reaction of a plastic solution of acids and alcohols.
Vegan suede is usually produced in facilities that also make other synthetic materials, including polyamides, polyesters, and acrylics.
The condensation polymerization process eliminates water and forms a big repeating molecule to create synthetic suede sheets or ribbons that are then shredded into chips. The process requires high temperatures and consumes tons of water, energy, and chemicals.
Faux suede fibers used in the textile and apparel industry are created through spinning, a process that employs a heated mechanical spinneret with tiny holes to melt solid chips of fake suede.
After being purified and extended to make long filaments, vegan suede fibers are ready to be spun into yarns, which are then woven into a thin, soft, but very tough plastic fabric by textile manufacturers.
Is faux suede toxic?
Faux suede or fake suede is completely synthetic but is generally safe to wear. It isn't considered toxic, and skin sensitivity to suede is very rare. Suede is chemically stable and inert and isn't an allergen to most people.
However, the manufacturing of suede is very harmful to the human environment and nature. One of the most concerning issues our planet is facing is plastic pollution. And suede is part of the problem.
Many manufacturers also add chemical additives to everyday synthetic suede products, including shoes, clothes, accessories, bags, furniture, upholstery, and more.
Even if suede isn't harmful per se, suede products can contain several hazardous chemicals and allergens.
Is vegan suede eco-friendly?
Vegan suede or faux suede is a fully synthetic textile made from polyester or polyurethane, a thermoplastic polymer made from petroleum-based chemicals. It isn't considered eco-friendly. The biggest drawback of vegan suede is its severely negative environmental impact.
Faux suede manufacturing isn't environmentally friendly and has disastrous effects on the environment and human health. Synthetic fabrics like vegan suede have raised deep environmental concerns.
Polyester and polyurethane production requires a large amount of energy and several petroleum-based chemicals to bind all the molecules during a chemical reaction. It increases our consumption of fossil fuels and dependency.
Vegan suede fabric isn't biodegradable or compostable. It takes hundreds of years to decompose. As polyester and polyurethane break down, they release chemicals and greenhouse gases into the environment.
Synthetic fabrics like fake suede destroy ecosystems and nature. They contribute to the high amount of non-biodegradable waste that ends up in landfills every year.
Faux suede fabrics also release plastic microfibers into the environment that pollute entire food chains, kill land and marine wildlife, and endanger human health.
These plastic microfibers are consumed by fish and birds and end up in our food, lungs, and stomachs. Every year, we produce more than 300 million tons of plastic globally.
8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans annually. Less than 10% of all plastic is recycled. If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.