Suede vs Leather
Posted: 26th March 2014 in Leather
We are often asked the difference between leather and suede and which is best or most suited for a particular item or use.
Before we can answer it is important that you know exactly what leather and suede is.
What is suede?
Leather is the skin of an animal that has been processed ( tanned ) to preserve it. After the tanning, the skin has two sides with totally different finishes. The outer side, that originally had the wool or hair on has a grain which is referred to as a Nappa finish. This is what most people think of and refer to as leather. The inner or flesh side is suede. So technically all leather is suede on one side of the skin.
Depending on the animal the skin has derived from makes a massive difference to the texture and handle of the suede. Goat and sheep make the best suede that is very soft with a smooth velvety nap suitable for the fashion industry for the manufacture of lightweight garments, handbags and small leather goods.
The suede of leather from cows/buffalo ( Bovines) is much coarser than that from sheep and goats due to the more fibrous consistency of the skin it is also heavier and a firmer consistency. This can be used for garments and handbags but is best suited and more commonly used for footwear and upholstery.
If the outer surface of the skin is sanded to remove the grain it produces a finish that has a fine nap. Technically this is not suede as it is produced from the top/outer side of the skin and as mentioned above suede is the inside surface of the skin but for all intents and purpose it is a suede finish and to the layman, it is not distinguishable from suede.
Three Different Finishes
So we actually have three items to compare when discussing Leather V Suede.
Nappa; The normal grain finish on the outer side of the skin.
Nubuck; The suede surface produced after sanding off the grain of the Nappa leather.
Suede; The inside surface of the skin
The below is a general overview of the properties and characteristics of each item but when dealing with a natural product there will always be exceptions and contradictions.
The traditional leather finish. This is the most robust surface when it comes to keeping clean and durability
The grain of the leather is intact which offers some water resistance enabling the leather to be wiped with a damp cloth to remove some soiling and the harder surface withstanding more wear and tare.
If you require a super lightweight jacket with a fine,soft,smooth nap that feels like velvet or an elegant skirt with beautiful drape, suede should be your choice but bear in mind it can easily be marked by makeup or natural hair oils and rain spot. It can be cleaned by a specialist dry cleaner and some protection can be offered by protective sprays.
Pigment can be sprayed onto the suede surface to produce a finish known as Napalan ( as the traditional flying jacket ) that gives some protection from water and soiling.
This normally falls in between Nappa and Suede. Cow nubuck is quite robust and used a lot in footwear as well as garments. Some soiling can be removed with a damp cloth. Sheep is very popular in semi nubuck which is when some of the grain is left on to give an attractive two-tone finish.
Whether you are looking for Leather, Suede or Nubuck they can all be dyed in any colour and washed or waxed to produce a multitude of finishes.
Hopefully, the information above has been useful however please do not hesitate to email us or call our helpline if you need any further advise.