We see Suede all around us, commonly used on jackets, vests, handbags, gloves, hats, chokers and of course on our beloved shoes. But do we really know what is suede? When manufacturers want to create suede, they usually take standard full grain leather and run its surface against an emery wheel to break open the tougher outer skin and reveal the softer and fuzzier layer underneath. This not only ruffles up the fibers and gives it a nappy finish, it makes sure that the texture is consistent while maintaining the same thickness across the board. Suede is basically leather turned upside down or the top grain removed by the emery wheel method to give it a brushed texture. The name itself comes from France for a specific kind of glove leather of Swedish origin and only later was the name “Suede” used for the finish used to characterize the material.
But you don’t quite need a doctorate in materials to create your own nap of suede. Yep, sandpaper/pumice stone, some rubbing alcohol and time are all you need to turn your aging leather shoes into suede shoes. The preferable leathers for creating suede are deer, lamb, goat, calf, pig and even Ostrich. But technology has made killing of all these animals for their skin a thing of the past. You can now have Faux Suede, a synthetic material made from 100% polyester microfiber which is woven into a thin but quite strong plastic fabric. This makes it far more durable than suede created using natural methods. Also known as Ultra Suede, the material was invented in 1970 by Dr. Miyoshi Okamoto, who at the time was working for Toray Industries. Suede has a luxurious look and feel which are best represented by panels on your handbags, drapes, Chelsea boots, casual skate silhouettes and the like.
Durability & Cleaning
A lot of people have their reservations regarding suede as a reliable and durable material. The popular notion is that suede is less durable but softer than the standard full-grain leather and so, it is only suitable for delicate use. Well, that totally depends on the thickness of the leather you’re working with.While it’s true that Suede doesn’t have the tougher outer skin, if it’s thick enough, it will outlive most of the other materials in your wardrobe. As I always say, another important factor is how you treat your shoes.
Suede does have open pores though and tends to be a dirt magnet for the said reason. Brushing it regularly can get rid of most of the surface dirt and products are available in the market ranging from creams to erasers and shampoos that will help you keep your shoes clean. You also get protective products like Crep Protect, Jason Markk Repel and Vetro Power that help you keep dirt away from your products in the first place. Faux suede is much easier to clean by using a plain dry cloth. A soft bristled brush can do wonders as well. If the stain is stubborn and has dried, you can use a small amount of polyester cleaner. Remember, excess of everything is bad so use these products sparingly or you’d do more harm than good.
Now, this is not a hard and fast rule. As with all things, there are exceptions. A large determiner in leather strength is the thickness, and if you get suede that is relatively thick and heavy, it can be quite strong, and definitely outlast other inferior leathers. If you do have this stronger suede and you use it in settings with high wear and tear, eventually the “fuzzy” part of the suede will rub off, leaving it smooth. However, this is not the role that suede traditionally plays, and you don’t see it near as often.