Faux suede is a man-made fabric used in clothing, footwear, and upholstery. It is designed to mimic the look of regular suede, which is a leather product made from the undersides of animal skins. Faux versions are not usually as durable, but they are often much less expensive and are also easier to clean and maintain.
In most cases, imitation suede is designed to look indistinguishable from regular suede, at least at first glance. The fabric is usually very soft and has a matte finish. It also typically has a defined "grain," so that rubbing the fabric in one direction yields a different texture and color tone than rubbing it in another.
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How It's Made
Faux suede is made entirely of synthetic polyester. Polyesters are durable chains of polymer molecules bound together through a series of chemical reactions. They are common in plastics and resins, but can also be formed into threads that can be used in weaving.
To make a fabric that resembles suede, manufacturers choose polymer threads that are close to the weight and consistency of leather fibers. The best imitations use multiple threads at once to create a double or triple weave because, although single weave fabrics often look good at first glance, they tend to feel much flimsier. After the weaving is complete, the manufacturer runs a coarse brush over the top of the fabric in order to create the matted, almost fuzzy texture.
Most of the time, color is added to the polymer threads before the weaving begins, although it is also possible to dye the finished product. Imitation suede that is designed to look natural is usually tan or light brown in color. It is not uncommon to find green, blue, or even pink imitation products, however, particularly when it comes to fashion items.
Where It's Used
The fashion industry is one of the biggest consumers of suede, and many designers and top fashion lines sell jackets, skirts, and pants made with this fabric. These products are often too expensive to attract mid-range shoppers, but imitation leather provides a similar look at a fraction of the price. It also appeals to consumers who want to avoid products made from animals. Faux suede shoes, handbags, and accessories such as belts are only a few of the more widely sold products.
There are also many uses for the fabric in the home décor sector. Faux suede sofas and loveseats are very popular, for instance, and can provide soft, durable seating for a much more affordable price than real leather. The material may also be used for decorative curtains or throw pillows.
Caring for faux suede is usually no harder than keeping it dusted and occasionally wiping it down with a damp cloth. Stains are typically easy to treat, as well, and a bit of soap and water will lift most new blemishes. Tougher spots may require the use of mild detergents or a simple baking soda and vinegar mixture, often applied with a stiff brush. Experts do not recommend that stain solutions be left on the fabric for longer than a few minutes, however, in case they create new stains or water spots of their own.
Differences Between Real and Faux Suede
Aside from the fact that real suede comes from animal skins and faux is created from synthetic materials, there are a number of important differences between real and imitation versions. Real suede is typically more durable, although the quality can vary depending on how it is made. Imitation fabric tends to be more resistant to water and staining, however, and it is often easier to care for.
Natural suede is usually not water resistant, and even the smallest drop can leave a permanent stain. The leather can be treated with different chemicals to help improve its water resistance, but often with only mixed results. As such, most outerwear made from this material is designed to look good, but should only be used indoors or on sunny days. Faux suede, on the other hand, is usually water repellent if not completely waterproof all on its own. It is essentially made of refined plastic, which makes it very weather resistant.
Aging is another area of difference. Regular suede, like most leathers, tends to crack and discolor as it gets older. Different parts of the material react to sunlight and atmospheric elements differently over time, usually corresponding to the part of the animal that they came from. Parts of the body that were used and stretched more than others tend to produce tougher, more crack-prone leather than parts that were covered mostly in fat or protected muscle. Imitation suede is much more consistent and ages uniformly in most cases.