a vegan suede jacket made by Banana Republic.

Suede: Ethical Issues and Vegan Alternatives

If you’re vegan or concerned about animal cruelty, suede is yet another item to avoid. Fortunately there are a number of excellent vegan alternatives.

What is Suede?

Suede is a type of leather that features a soft, napped finish. It’s typically made from the belly skins of lambs, calves, young goats, and deer.

Like leather, people sometimes assert that suede is an unwanted byproduct of animal agriculture. They’ll then argue that suede’s purchase does not contribute to exploitation. In reality, animal pelts represent a significant portion of the value paid for a carcass. And since suede commands higher prices than conventional leather, it’s certainly not made from unwanted byproducts.

Other types of leather are commonly treated with chemical sealants, but suede does not receive this sort of processing. As a result, suede is remarkably prone to stains and water damage. This has opened the door to vegan competitors that look and feel like suede, but offer far superior durability.

What Products Feature Suede?

The items most likely to be made with suede include:

  • clothing, especially jackets
  • shoes and boots
  • chairs and sofas
  • gloves
  • handbags
  • slippers
  • belts

You need to stay vigilant, since suede may also appear in hard-to-notice places like the label on jeans or in the lining of shoes.

Vegan Suede Alternatives

With its rough yet soft surface, suede is a more challenging material to veganize than regular leather. In the 1970s, a Japanese material science company called Toray pioneered a superb vegan suede product. Trademarked as Ultrasuede, its manufacturing process involves some truly impressive technology. Ultrasuede appears in numerous high-end fashion products, all of which mention it on the label.

More recently, thanks to textile industry breakthroughs, new competitors have emerged. Their offerings, based on various polyester microfibers, are generically known as microsuede. Like Ultrasuede, most microsuede products are both durable and water resistant. As a result of its softness, strength, and wear-resistance, microsuede is becoming an increasingly popular material for chairs and sofas.

Vegan suede products may carry a “faux suede,” or “man-made” label.  And obviously, any product simply labeled as vegan is a safe choice.

For further reading, please see our leather, apparel, and animal ingredients pages.
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