What is Camel Suede?

Koren Allen

The term "camel suede" is somewhat confusing because it is used to describe several different types of fabrics. True camel suede is a type of leather made from camel hide, usually the hump section, but the term is commonly used to describe other types of suede, even faux suede, which has been dyed to the characteristic light brown color of the camel.

A brush for cleaning camel suede shoes.
A brush for cleaning camel suede shoes.

Camel suede, like other types of suede, is prized for its combination of durability and softness. The warm, light-brown color and distinctive grain pattern of camel suede makes it appealing for garments and accessories, and it is often found in handbags, gloves, shoes and belts. Camel suede has exceptional tensile strength, which means it holds up to wear, tear, and has exceptional ability to stretch. This makes it ideally suited for footwear, particularly boots. Camel hide is more flexible than other types of leather products, making it easier to work with. For this reason, camel suede is also used in furniture upholstery and crafting projects.

True camel suede is a type of leather, and must be cleaned and tanned like any other leather.
True camel suede is a type of leather, and must be cleaned and tanned like any other leather.

Camel leather has been used for centuries in the desert regions of the world where camels are plentiful. Locally, camel leather has been used to make crafts, bowls, jugs, and even shields. Commercial production of camel hides began in Australia, and commercial exportation of camel leather and camel suede has begun to increase worldwide. The largest market for camel suede seems to be clothing designers and crafters who routinely utilize other forms of leather as well. Camels are not raised solely for their hides. The leather is a by-product when the animal is raised for transportation, meat or other uses; because of this, camel leather and camel suede can provide a relatively cost-effective alternative to bovine leather in some circumstances.

Camel suede is processed using the same techniques as other types of leather. Suede is the underside of an animal's hide, with the tough exterior layer of skin removed. Leathers and suede undergo a process called tanning, in which the skin is scraped and treated to preserve its durability and prevent decomposition and shrinkage of the fabric. Tanning procedures vary widely from one country to another, so the end product can vary widely in color and pliability, depending on its source.

For the consumer who doesn't wish to wear or use animal products, faux suede is widely available in colors and textures that mimic true camel suede but are made from natural or synthetic fibers instead of animal hides. Commonly referred to as "faux camel suede", these fabrics do not have the scarring and grain that is found in natural leather products, and are made without sacrificing animals.

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