Some leathers appear very different than others, while also offering unique qualities that stand out. Suede leather has a soft, textured feel while also being durable.
Suede leather is a type of leather made with a surface nap of small, raised fibers that are soft to the touch. It is usually made from the middle layers of the hide, and often dyed various colors. Suede is used in a variety of leather goods including jackets, shoes, gloves, and upholstery.
The surface texture on Suede leather makes it stand out with a unique visual appearance. Let’s see how that’s done and what leather goods and projects it can be great for.
What is Suede Leather?
Suede leather is a type of leather that has a velvety-soft texture on the surface. It is usually made from the middle layer or layers from a thick hide that is split into several thinner layers. On thinner hides, Suede will be made from the side of the hide that was once closer to the animal. This is sometimes called the “underside”, or “flesh side”.
What makes it noticeably different than most leathers is that the surface is made up of many small raised leather fibers. It is almost “fuzzy”, though with very compact and short fibers that feel smooth. The stronger layers of leather (Full Grain and Top Grain) have dense, durable fibers. Those that are used for suede are usually looser and more open. We’ll dive into why in more detail below.
These fibers are sanded in such a way as to separate and raise them, resulting in a “fuzzy”, velvety surface on the leather. Lets look at the different layers of leather and exactly where Suede comes from. Since these fibers are natural leather fibers, they are relatively durable and resistant to wear.
Here is a brief look at a suede leather used on a shoe:
What is Suede Leather Made of?
Suede leather is made from the middle layers or inside face of the animal hide. These are strong layers of leather, comprised of collagen fibers. These layers are not as strong as Full Grain and Top Grain leathers, though make great leather for creating suede due to their softness and flexibility. To understand more about the layers of the hide and why they’re different, let’s look at each.
Leather Hide – The Grain
The grain is the outermost surface of the leather hide. It is comprised of tight, dense fibers. The grain is the layer that was exposed to the elements (air, rain, sun, etc.), and is usually very strong and smooth once the hair is removed.
Leather Hide – The Grain and Corium Junction
The grain and corium junction is where the tight, outer layer of the leather blends into the looser fibers of the corium. This junction is a mix of the very desirable grain layer, and the more fibrous and looser fibers of the corium layer.
Leather Hide – Corium
The corium is a layer within animal hides that is comprised mainly of collagen fibers. These are looser and more open than in the grain layer. Though, this layer is highly usable for producing leather. The corium is usually the thickest layer within an animal hide. Thus, after splitting a hide, parts of the corium might be present in either top grain or genuine leather products.
Leather Hide – Flesh
The flesh is the layer of the hide that consists mainly of muscle and fatty tissues. It is not very valuable for end leather uses. As such, leather is usually split to remove the layers above it, yielding useable material of different grades and qualities for the production of leather goods.
Why Suede Leather is Made from The Underside of Leather
Generally, the hide layers closest to the surface have the tightest, densest grain. This is because the animal’s skin closest to the surface served to protect it. This could be from sun, wind, rain, and abrasions encountered in daily living. For a detailed look at grain leather in an article I wrote, click here.
As one goes down to the deeper layers, the skin accommodated more within it such as fatty tissue, and other organic substances. As such, the collagen fibers were looser to fit all of these substances in. The leather from these layers, such as Split Leather, is not as strong as Top Grain and Full Grain leather, simply because the fibers are less dense.
In Suede leather, the material is made by taking a leather cut from the corium of the hide, and sanding the inner surface (the “flesh side”) of dense fibers to produce the raised-fiber, textured side. Because the fibers are somewhat loose, they result in a fuzzy surface of leather fiber.
Also, it’s worth to note, there is a similar leather called Nubuck. in Nubuck, the outer-facing side (grain side) is what’s sanded to make it. This is because the closer to the original surface of the hide the leather is, the tighter the fibers. Thus, Nubuck utilizes the outer surface, and is made from Top Grain leather. Suede fibers are not as tight and dense as Nubuck. Although, Suede fibers are usually longer, resulting in a different texture and visual appearance.
Nubuck leather generally costs more than suede. This is because the tighter grain of Nubuck is a bit stronger and more durable. It also looks a bit smoother. Thus, these preferred qualities also reflect in a higher price.
How is Suede Leather Made?
Suede leather is made through a process called tanning. Tanning includes of up to 25 steps and can take from days to months depending on the process used. Often, suede leathers are tanned using a chromium tanning (chrome tanned) process that takes only a few days. Chrome tanning is known for producing leathers that are soft and flexible.
Chromium tanning also yields leathers that take and hold colored dye relatively well. This produces a very visually appealing, and soft leather suitable for a range of leather goods including bags, gloves, purses, wallets, and a number of fine leather goods and personal accessories. Suede leathers also come in many colors making then both physically soft and visually stunning.
Since the raised fibers are the result of a sanding process, the process can be applied to either one or both sides of the leather. When applied to both sides, it’s referred to as “double-sided suede”. When applied to only one side, it’s called “suede”, or single-sided” suede.
Embossed Suede Leather
The main appeal of Suede is the soft feel of the natural surface of the leather. However, for aesthetic and design preferences, a surface pattern might also be applied or embossed onto it. This might be simulated grain, random pattern, geometric pattern, or even a design that reflects a specific brand.
The surface will still have the velvety-soft feel, there will just also be a pattern applied to the surface as well. While generally less common than unembossed suede, embossed suede leather is certainly an option. It, too, is available in a wide range of colors.
What Hides are Made Into Suede Leather?
Most commonly today, suede comes from the hides of calves (young cows), lambs (young sheep), and kids (young goats). Larger, or older animals, such as cows, deer, sheep, and goats generally have thicker skins that yield a little bit of a rougher raised fiber (nap). Thus, the softer and finer hides from calves, lambs, and kids is preferred. However, suede can be made from most any hide.
Why is it Called Suede?
It is proposed that the term “Suede” developed initially from a literal reference. In around 1859, there were fine ladies leather gloves being produced in Sweden. They have a raised fiber nap, and were quite soft, comfortable, and luxurious.
The French would refer to them as “gants de Suède”, which, translated into English means, “gloves of Sweden”. As this unique material spread in popularity, and around the globe, the reference stuck. Then generally any soft leather with a nap of raised fibers was referred to in short, as “Suede”.
It would be interesting to find any original references from the period, such as newspapers or journals that referenced the new gants de Suède.
What is Suede Leather Used For?
Nubuck leather is used to make a wide range of leather goods. Commonly, these include:
- Automobile Upholstery
- Furniture Upholstery
- Travel Bags
- Notebook Covers
- Mobile Electronic Device Covers and Cases
Common Suede Leather Questions
When determining if this material is right for a future purchase of a finished good, or if you’re planning to leather craft something with suede, here are a few things that might be helpful to know.
Is Suede Leather?
Yes, suede is leather. It is made from a durable part of the hide. It is generally strong, used for clothing, upholstery, and a variety of wearable leather goods as well as for personal accessories.
What is the Difference Between Leather and Suede?
Suede is a type of leather that has been sanded to yield a raised-fiber nap on the underside surface. So while leather is a general term that can refer to a variety of types and qualities of the material, suede refers to a specific group of leather that has been processed in a particular way. Suede leather is certainly real leather.
While leather in general can have different treatments done that alter it’s surface, Suede is usually colored or dyed. Additionally, it can be waterproofed if preferred.
Is Suede Leather Water Resistant?
Generally, no, suede leather is not water resistant. Additionally, the raised fibers help it attract and retain more water once wet. That said, as a natural fiber, suede leather can get wet and not usually lead to permanent damage. Usually, the color will darken once wet. When allowed to dry, the leather will lighten in color and return nearly to it’s original state.
If desired, finishes can be applied to suede leather to make them water resistant, and in some cases, water proof. However, covering the desirable surface of suede takes away some of the feel from the raised fibers, as well as making it more difficult to condition the leather after it has had a strong finish applied.
Does Suede Leather Scratch Easily?
Yes, suede leather scratches easily. Since it is a natural leather, and often unfinished, scratches will leave marks in suede. Since the surface is composed of many tiny raised fibers, it is possible to make the scratch less visible by brushing the fibers in such a way that it masks the scratch. While not as smooth as unscratched suede, it is normal to experience scratches in this material resulting from everyday wear and use.
Popular Brands That Use Suede Leather
Leather goods made from suede have become relatively popular in the commercial market. For example, Prada makes duster coats and skirts. Coach makes boots, Brioni make jackets, and Fendi makes totes and bags. Many of the same manufacturers make boots and shoes, including Kate Spade New York.
Is Suede Leather Expensive?
Suede leather is a bit less expensive than vegetable tanned leather. For example, a 20 sq. ft. high-quality vegetable tanned cowhide might cost around $150, while the same quantity of Suede leather would cost around $68.
Suede Leather Care & Maintenance
It is important to properly clean and maintain all leather goods, including suede leather. Since they are comprised of natural fibers, keeping the surfaces clean and restoring/conditioning them with oils will help them stay strong and looking great.
One thing to keep in mind: for any step in leather care, generally test on a small area to ensure the cleaner or finish that you are applying will not react poorly with the material. Once you know it’s safe, clean away 🙂
Suede leather, if unfinished, is especially sensitive to cleaners. Even large drops of water can darken the material, though not usually permanently.
How to Clean Suede Leather
Suede leather can be cleaned generally by rubbing a moist, lint-free cloth over the surface. It’s best to do this in straight motions in varying directions. Since there is a nap of raised fibers, this will help move dirt and debris away, and while not grinding it deeper into the fibers.
Some of the moisture from the damp cloth might darken the leather material temporarily, and will air-dry from the surface. While it might seem like any water equals instant stain, it usually takes more than a damp cloth to leave any visible traces.
If the dirt is deeper, it has difficult stains, or you want to thoroughly clean the leather, a dedicated leather cleaner might be a helpful choice. Check for a leather soap intended for very soft leathers, particularly suede, to ensure it is gentle enough to clean without doing damage.
How to Condition Suede Leather
If the Suede leather has no surface finishes applied, the leather fibers dry out more quickly than on other types of leather. Thus, it is important to more frequently condition unfinished suede leather.
Generally, this involves applying a wax, oil, or cream onto the surface and letting the leather absorb it in. When conditioned, the leather is more supple, flexible, resistant to scratches, and feels better in the hand. Similar to when cleaning it, apply the conditioner in straight motions across the surface, in varying directions. Since the surface is a nap of raised fibers, this will help more evenly distribute the conditioner, and not concentrate it too deeply in any one area.
Once the surface has been thoroughly cleaned, the conditioner can be applied using an applicator or soft cloth or brush. Ensure the brush is very soft and intended for applications on suede leather. The excess conditioner can wiped off with a clean, lint-free cloth.
A protective finish can be applied at this stage, if preferred. The benefit is it will help the leather be a bit more water and scratch resistant. The potential downside is that it will introduce a layer on the leather surface that hides some of the desirable look and feel of natural leather. Protective finishes are usually natural waxes or synthetic waxes/acrylics that help make the surface water resistant.
How to Waterproof Suede Leather
If you’ve purchased a suede leather good that you plan to use in very wet conditions, or created a piece that you’d like to protect from the elements, it is possible to waterproof it.
A wax protectant can be added to it to help make it water resistant. Once cleaned and conditioned, the wax can be applied to the leather thoroughly. After a few minutes, the wax is generally buffed out and leaves the leather with a surface that is smooth and has a pleasant shine. It also provides a barrier that helps repel water.
For more lasting, and durable finishes, acrylics or synthetic protectants can be applied to the leather surface. However, the stronger the layer of water proofing (often a type of wax), the more difficult it is to later reach, clean, and condition the leather underneath.
How to Fix a Scratch on Suede Leather
There are a few ways to fix and repair scratches in leather. Generally, you’ll try a simpler method before moving on to the next, depending on how large and deep the scratch is. Since natural leather has many fibers in it, and originally had oils in the skin, adding oils back into it is usually a first step to try in fixing a scratch.
For small scratches, rub your finger over it to try and buff it out. If the scratch is deeper, try applying some leather conditioner to the scratch and surrounding area, then buff it out after a short while.
If that doesn’t work, try brushing the leather fibers (with a soft, suede-safe leather brush). It might adjust the fibers enough that it covers the scratch a bit, or possibly even fully.
If the scratch is very large or deep, you might need to try a leather filler kit. They usually have a substance that can be squeezed into leather cracks/cuts to fill them in. The substance generally has color matching options available so it’s a close visual look to the existing leather. Follow the specific instructions on the kit, though usually once it’s dried the surface can be smoothed and conditioned.
How to Fix Tears in Suede Leather
Tears in suede leather can often be fixed by sewing. The fixed tear will usually never look as smooth/finished as the original piece (those joined fibers actually made up the original hide), though ripped or torn leather can definitely be joined back together. Usually a fine, strong thread can be used to sew through small holes, and mend the tear.
For smaller tears, leather glue can be used. It will join the two torn areas. If a glue is selected in a color that is near the original leather color, it will be less noticeable. If the glue available is very different in color, once dried, the glue can be painted with an acrylic paint that closely matches the leather color. Acrylic paint is beneficial as it will have some flexibility to it, usually helpful if applied onto a leather good.
How to Store Suede Leather
Most leather should be stored in a cool, dry, dust-free location. Generally, leather products benefit from low-average humidity environments. Air flow is also beneficial, as it allows the natural fibers of the leather to “breathe”.
If kept in a sealed environment, the humidity might rise and the leather start to deteriorate, and mold. In an environment with too-low humidity, the leather can start to dry and that could lead to cracking and weakening of the fibers. If suede shoes or boots are wet, ensure they have had ample time (sometimes 24 hours or more) to fully dry out before storing.
A good place to store suede leather is a dressing room or closet that has an average livable temperature, humidity level, and frequent airflow. Some leather goods come with storage bags. They’re usually a breathable fabric that helps keep cut off. Storing it in one of these can be a great choice if available.
Suede leather is a unique type of leather in that its surface has a raised and fuzzy texture. When considering options for a leather project or new leather good purchase, suede offers a surface that will visibly stand out and last well for years.
Is suede leather good?
Yes, suede leather is good. It is not as strong as Nubuck, or Top Grain and Full Grain leathers, though it is a natural leather fiber and can last for decades with proper care and maintenance. Suede is used in some very high-end clothing and shoes.
Is suede leather real leather?
Yes, suede leather is real leather. It is made from the corium portion of the leather hide, and sanded to produce a surface with a nap of raised leather fibers (almost like fuzzy hairs). These give it a unique texture and visual appearance.
To learn more about all common leather types in a guide that I wrote, click here.
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