When Stella McCartney debuted her now-iconic Falabella bag in 2009, it turned the luxury handbag world upside down. Its success proved that people would buy luxury products made out of vegan materials—at a premium. Since then, the demand for vegan leathers—including vegan suede—has only increased, and so has the quality. But what is vegan suede? Simply put, it’s a man-made fabric with the same soft, napped feel and appearance of suede, but because it contains no animal products, it has the added benefit of being animal friendly.
So what makes vegan suede special?
To understand the benefits of this unique material, it helps to compare it to suede. Real suede is made from the underside of the hides of animals including lambs, goats and deer. It’s much softer, thinner and more pliable than full-grain leather (which is made from the thicker outer hide of cows and pigs), and it has a velvety finish and delicate feel that distinguishes it from the tough sheen of leather. Long considered a luxury material that needs babying, suede gets dirty quickly, stains easily—even plain water leaves a mark!—and always requires professional dry cleaning. Producing it also requires the raising of animals and the use of chemicals and preservatives in the tanning process.
The vegan version, in contrast, is animal friendly and is made without resource-intensive animal farming. What’s more, it has none of the drawbacks of real suede: It’s easy to care for, less expensive and ultra-durable. And thanks to stain-resistant finishes, it can often be cleaned with nothing more than water.
But does it look as good as the real thing?
Recent advances in microdenier fibers—super-fine man-made threads—have made it possible to produce textiles with the same velvety hand and textured appearance as real suede. High-quality examples are brushed to a finish that’s as appealing and unique as animal suede, with the same type of grain: When it’s rubbed in one direction, it produces a different color and texture than when it’s rubbed in the other direction. Schumacher’s own recently-launched version is as luxe as they come, with a finish that looks and feels so sumptuous, you’ll want to use it everywhere.
What exactly is vegan suede made of?
Most vegan suede—Schumacher’s included—is made of polyester microfibers that have been specially brushed and textured (see above). Less common is suedette, which is made of cotton or rayon that’s been processed to offer the look and feel of natural suede.
I’m sold. Where should I use it?
Because it’s durable and easy to clean yet soft and super cozy, vegan suede makes the perfect upholstery fabric, especially in high-touch areas. It’s also a brilliant choice for busy rooms full of pets and children because pillows and upholstery covers made of the material are often machine washable. Consider these fabrics a win for you and the animals!