It’s hard staying vegan with the market chock-full of animal-derived textiles. But with many fashion houses and red-carpet celebrities adopting the idea that regular leather is made for animals, not shoes and jackets, it seems that stores are making space on their shelves for more vegan-friendly fabrics. And among these is faux suede.
Suede is one of the never-dying trends of all seasons. It’s not only meant for the fall. Sure, this suede jacket will be the perfect pick for a cold night out with friends, but who says you can’t rock this summer dress with two-strap suede sandals?
Thankfully, you won’t have to give up on this marvelous fabric nor have to put your conscience aside and wear suede that carries the blood and tears of poor cattle. But what is faux suede really, what is it made from, and how to care for it? Keep reading!
What Is Faux Suede Fabric?
Faux suede, Microsuede, and Ultrasuede are all different names for the same fabric.
Faux suede is a fabric made from plastic to imitate real suede that comes from the underside of cattle’s abdomens. It’s a cruelty-free textile designed to spare animal lives and not deny suede lovers the charm of this soft and uniquely textured fabric at the same time.
Of course, being human-made, it’s not as durable as real animal skin. Yet, that really depends on the type of faux suede you purchase and the factory manufacturing it.
Also, since it’s way easier to clean and care for, we wouldn’t be surprised if your pair of faux suede shoes took up a permanent residency in your closet, something that real suede shoes can’t do, really!
The good thing about this vegan textile is that it doesn’t look cheap, although it’s way cheaper than the real deal. Manufacturers make sure that it has the same short nap and defined grain of genuine leather. It won’t be distinguishable if you’re worried about people’s perceptions. It even changes its texture and color tone when you rub it in different directions, just like real suede.
Why Is Faux Suede Better Than Real Suede?
It goes without saying that by picking faux suede, you choose not to hurt any of our furry friends. However, there are other reasons fashion lovers are leaning more towards faux suede than its cruel twin. Apart from the lower price, faux suede is more resistant to water and staining. Even better, some items are made to be completely waterproof.
With real suede, you have to fight to protect the fabric from rain and water as the smallest drops can leave permanent and irreversible damage. Gone are the days when getting caught in the rain or snow sprinkles while wearing your suede jacket meant saying goodbye to your beloved item of clothing.
Consequently, it’s easier to clean. Given that faux suede is treated with chemicals to resist water and spillages, it doesn’t have to be dry cleaned. Moreover, stains tend to sit on the fabric’s surface instead of soaking in, which means removing them is a breeze.
> Read more: Is suede vegan?
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can machine wash it; it’s still a delicate fabric! However, a solution of water and soap is enough to clean it.
Another benefit is that unlike real suede, imitation suede ages beautifully. Because the real deal comes from animal abdomens, it tends to stretch and lose its rigidity over time, just like normal skin. Further, its colors don’t hold up in the face of sunlight and prolonged usage since it’s stained with transparent dyes to keep its natural shape.
Faux suede, on the other hand, stays as good as new for ages and resists cracking, fraying, and discoloration.
A Glance at Faux Suede’s History
The beginnings of this fabric fall back in the 1970s when Dr. Miyoshi Okamoto, a scientist in Toray industries, made a fabric that feels like suede but is actually made from different content ranges of polyester and polyurethane.
The fabric, which went by the name “Ultrasuede,” was so pliable and versatile that it immediately made its way to different industries. It came in a variety of colors and patterns and had fewer problems than the animal suede, so it was an instant hit.
The scientist made sure its durability matches or at least mimics the strength of natural suede, so he backed its surface with woven fabric and combined it with polyurethane foam to resist fraying and separation of fibers.
After that, the fabric took many forms, including Microsuede, a polyester fabric made up of very fine microfibres. Whichever type or form of faux suede you find on the market now, they share the same qualities and characteristics.
How Is It Made?
The manufacturing process of faux suede is a long and complicated one as the more attention paid to every detail, the higher the quality of the imitations.
The fabric is made from 100% plastic. The polymers used are polyurethane and polyester with different ranges. To make the material indistinguishable, manufacturers choose polymers of the same weight and consistency as natural suede leather.
Each of the polymers goes under heavy chemical processing to create thin and durable threads. The fibers are then stained and colored in tan and brown colors to imitate natural skin. If the items are produced for clothing or upholstery, more vibrant colors are used.
After staining, manufacturers can choose whether to make the fabric from single fibers or multiple weaved fibers. While the former gives a more natural look, the latter is less flimsy, so most of the time, they go for weaved polyester threads.
Finally, they run a coarse brush over the fibers to create the matte and fuzzy finish of real suede. The fabric is then put together and becomes ready for cutting, stitching, and tailoring.
Sometimes, manufacturers add a backing base to faux suede to improve the suede feel. This isn’t an issue most of the time since the backings used are usually either cotton or linen. However, some add wool or silk, which withdraws the “vegan label” from the whole process.
That’s why we always recommend that you go through the ingredients thoroughly, even if the label says “cruelty-free.” The main fabric itself may be vegan, but some other constituents may be animal-derived.
Uses and Role in Fashion
As we mentioned before, faux suede’s pliability and economic value granted it a role in many productions. The fashion industry takes the first place, of course. Just like genuine suede, it’s more commonly used in shoes and boots with napped finishes.
Thanks to its durability and luxurious looks, it’s used as a cheaper alternative for many accessories like bags, belts, and purses. It’s also used in winter garments like jackets and trousers as it traps heat and keeps you warm while maintaining that hint of classiness at the same time.
In addition to its affordable price tag, faux suede can be coated with a thin film to protect the fabric from accidental spillages and stains that are common in houses. Consequently, it’s used to make upholstery and home decor accessories. Pillows, sofas, wall-hangings, and carpets can all be made of faux suede.
Not only that but also this vegan fiber is integrated into the manufacture of automobiles and other vehicle upholstery. We won’t even be surprised if you find laptop cases and footbags made of the said fabric.
How to Tell the Difference Between Real and Faux Suede?
Well, the label says it all, right? Always check the tags for the terms “faux leather,” “faux suede,” “suedette,” “vegan leather,” or “pleather.” Any of these words act as a thumbs-up sign that you can purchase the item in hand.
While reading the tag is the best measure to avoid buying real leather as faux suede, it’s not the only way to make sure you’re committing to your vegan concepts.
Sometimes labels can be misleading. For example, “bonded suede” may not catch your eyes at first glance, but it actually means the item is made from the leftover scraps of natural leather along with faux suede. Other times, there isn’t a label to check in the first place, like when you buy an old or a used item.
To make sure you won’t return home with an animal-derived product, here are a few tips to help you differentiate between the two materials:
- Check the fabric closely. If it has smooth perfect edges, it’s faux suede. Real suede is cut from animal skins, so it tends to have uneven edges.
- Notice the color and uniformity of the fabric’s appearance. If you spot any inconsistency in the suede’s pattern, it’s probably real. Genuine leather tends to be uneven in color and may have a scar or two. Also, the hair imprints feel more natural and irregular.
- Hold the fabric closely and bring it near your nose. If you smell the distinctive organic scent of real leather, it’s probably real since this smell is hard to manufacture. On the other hand, if the item smells like plastic, you’re safe to go.
- If possible, perform “the fire test.” Burn a few threads of the fabric and observe the result. Genuine suede gets slightly charred and emits the odor of burning hair. On the contrary, faux suede burns faster and will smell like burning plastic.
Stay Vegan, Stay Chic
Faux suede is your way to look like a million bucks without hurting your pocket or any of our furry friends, for that matter. Although high-quality faux suede costs more than cheaper alternatives, even the most expensive imitation won’t be as costly as the real deal.
So it’s like hitting two birds with one stone, really; you’ll look as elegant as ever without emptying your pockets or harming any living creatures in the process. Not to mention that it’ll last you more since it’s easier to maintain and won’t be ruined by a few drops of water as animal suede.