What Is Nubuck? And Is It Vegan?

what is nubuck?

With the boom of social consciousness, people have been paying more attention to what they wear. The PETA (People of Ethical Treatment of Animals) and other animal rights organizations have been raising awareness about the animal-derived materials, showing the abuse and neglect these animals suffer from. 

However, to be able to do our part of creating a brighter future for our furry friends, we should know which fabrics to avoid. While wool and leather are obvious no-nos, some materials like nubuck fall under the category of “ambiguous items” because you’ll rarely find someone who knows what nubuck is and from what it’s made.

If this is your case, we’re here to clear the fog! Read on to know everything about nubuck and whether or not it’s vegan and environment-friendly.

What is Nubuck?

Nubuck is a type of fuzzy leather that is made from the lower layer of cattle’s abdomens. At first glance, it looks and feels the same as suede. Yet, the latter comes from the hide’s interior part while nubuck is made from the exterior portion of the skin.

The obtained animals’ skin is sanded to give a smooth surface, then the surface of the grain is removed to achieve a velvety finish. In this sense, the fabric looks exactly the same as suede. However, since it comes from the tough exterior skin layer, it’s less soft and luxurious yet more durable, brushed, and resistant to wear and tear.

Given that nubuck scratches and stains easily, it needs heavy processing before it’s converted into the fabric integrated into clothes and shoes. It must be dyed heavily to cover up sanding and requires pretreatment with chemicals to make it more stain-resistant and prevent discoloration. All of which adds to its cost, of course, making it even pricier than suede.

The textile is one of the most versatile and pliable leathers out there. Therefore, many fashion houses have been using it to make shoes, purses, and belts. However, its most popular use is in car seats and upholstery.

Is Nubuck Vegan?

Is nubuck vegan?

No, nubuck isn’t vegan. Apart from the fact that it’s a direct animal product, which opposes what veganism stands for, everything about this fabric involves animal slavery and exploitation. 

Veganism isn’t only about avoiding meat and milk. It’s a concept that aims to give animals their rights to live a happy life and die of natural causes as we do. Nothing about the nubuck industry accord with this concept.

PETA has recorded and shared many videos and photos of the cruelty practiced against cattle raised in industrial farms. From day one, these poor cattle are raised in filthy conditions and forced to breed.

Then, their babies are stolen from them shortly after they’re born, and they’re treated like milk-producing machines if they’re dairy cows. Their bodies are pumped with medicines and hormones to increase their milk production, and they’re milked until their bodies give out from the stress.

After they suffer a lifetime of confinement and suffering, they’re taken into slaughterhouses where their throats are cut, and their skin is used as fabric. You wouldn’t have thought there’s this much cruelty behind a pair of nubuck shoes, right? 

After all, animals do feel stress and fear like humans. They grieve after their calves are taken away from them over and over, and there’s no justification for these acts except that human greed has no end.

Some argue that if nubuck is a byproduct of the meat industry, it’s safe to wear. But does that make it any more ethical? Is it okay to step on animals’ skins if they were unjustly killed for a purpose other than benefiting from their hide? If anything, such logic gives the industry more reasons to mistreat and exploit animals.

There are alternatives though. Check our guide to vegan leather for more info.

Environmental Effects of Nubuck

As with any other animal product, it’s not only the animals that suffer, but also the planet receives its share from the pain. 

Reproducing more animals leads to more mouths that need to be fed. Raising cattle in enormous numbers for industrial purposes has proven to drain both land and water resources. Yet, that’s not the only problem.

As mentioned before, nubuck needs pretreatment with lots of chemicals to look like how you see it on stores’ shelves. Most of these chemicals are dangerous and carcinogenic like formaldehyde and coal-tar derivatives. During the production process, these toxic substances are released into the groundwater and cause diseases to residents living nearby.

But What About the Nubuck Items Already in Your Closet? 

Well, there are many controversial opinions about this topic in the vegan community. Some insist that you should throw them away while others say it’s okay since they’re already in your closet, and you didn’t know before you purchased them.

We lean more toward the second opinion. What happened in the past stays in the past. What matters more is what you buy in the future. Ditching your nubuck shoes won’t have any positive or negative effect on the industry or animals’ lives. In fact, it’s very unsustainable to go all the way again and buy new shoes and purses, even if they’re vegan.

Nevertheless, the decision is all yours. Just go with your guts. If you feel comfortable wearing them, then ignore what people say as you’re not doing anything ethically wrong. Yet, if you can’t bring yourself to wear them anymore, you can always donate or sell them. 

At the end of the day, we’re all trying to stick to our beliefs and do the best for our planet, so you’re the judge of your actions.

Final Words

To sum everything up, nubuck production has nothing but adverse effects on animals and the environment. It’s not by any means vegan, and by wearing it, you’re only increasing the number of animals exploited and killed every year to produce such fabric.

We sincerely advise you to check the tags of each item you come across before taking it to the cashier. If it says nubuck, stay true to yourself and leave it to rot on the shelf.

Thomas has been vegan for over 5 years and has decided to move to Costa Rica with his family to be closer to nature and live a more minimalistic life. He loves yummy vegan food and sustainable products.