Vegan Suede Alternatives

By Divya Kashyap. Published: May 2022.
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Faux suede, also known as suede fabric, suedette, synthetic or artificial suede, is a fabric that mimics the qualities of animal suede. Unlike traditional suede, faux suede is considered vegan.

But what is vegan suede made of? Faux suede is made using polyester or polyurethane, a thermoplastic polymer-based substance. This material is far less expensive to make, easy to maintain, sturdy, and long-lasting. 

Additionally, advancing technology is giving way to more biodegradable suede-like materials. These are made from plant starches and plant fiber.

Faux suede is a great alternative to animal suede. It’s constructed with superfine denier chemical fiber as the base material, then napped, sanded, and dyed.

There are variations that exist even when it comes to artificial or faux suede. Listed below are the different types you can currently find in the global textile market.

Read also: Is Suede Vegan? What Is Suede Made Of?

1. Microsuede

Microsuede, a type of microfiber, is a knitted blend of man-made microfiber fabric made from synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is another name for polyester (PET). It is made from petrochemicals or petroleum-based compounds.

However, polyester may also be created from both natural sources, such as plant cuticles.

The microsuede fabric consists of very tiny threads that can be a hundred times finer than human hair. These fine strands are densely woven together to make a thick fabric. It shares many of the same characteristics as suede leather but is considerably easier to clean and much softer.

Microsuede is a less costly, softer, and more malleable alternative to suede that is durable and stain-resistant. Microsuede is commonly used in upholstery materials because it resists filth and can withstand normal wear and tear.

Because of its wrinkle resistance, the cloth is used to construct curtains and beds. Its stain resistance and durability make it a popular choice for shoes and accessories.

Although microsuede is a vegan choice, it is not necessarily the most environmentally friendly. When picking microsuede, it helps to keep microfiber pollution in mind and minimize it.

2. Alcantara

Miyoshi Okamoto created Alcantara in the 1970s, and the Italian business Alcantara first produced it. It is presently produced by Toray and Mitsui’s joint venture Alcantara S.p.A. in Italy.

Alcantara is the predecessor to microsuede. It too is a typical synthetic textile material made from thermoplastic polymer.

Alcantara, also known as Ultrasuede, is a material that is frequently used in car interior trim as a replacement for leather and vinyl. It’s primarily used in the design, fashion, consumer electronics, aviation, and maritime sectors.

This fabric has been featured in luxury cars, bags, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space capsule, Microsoft Surface laptops, and Samsung S8.

Mr. Miyoshi Okamoto created Alcantara and Ultrasuede materials using the same manufacturing method.

The distinction between them is that Alcantara is manufactured in Italy and has a more prestigious label. And Ultrasuede is manufactured in Japan and is extensively used in the United States.

Furthermore, there are some small color and aesthetic changes amongst them.

As a fabric, Alcantara is anti-fouling, scratch-resistant, and harder than animal suede. It has been designed to replace the animal suede fabric. But like microsuede, it poses the same challenge of microfiber pollution while not being good for the planet. 

3. Eco-Suede

Eco-suede is also considered vegan and a more ecologically friendly suede alternative. This material is softer than animal suede but is made using a combination of recycled polyester and plant-based starch.

Compared to virgin plastics, recycled plastics consume less energy. They also emit fewer greenhouse gasses during the manufacturing process.

Eco-suede is easy to clean and lasts many years. Although, microfibers might also be a problem in this case. To avoid this problem, one can look for a brand that only employs plant-based polymers in its eco-suede.

Eco-suede is typically used in the manufacturing of furniture and upholstery, but it can also make its way into clothing as well.

Additionally, there are brands like ColaReb that are known to use eco-suede that is biodegradable and PVC-free.

4. Mushroom Suede

Mushroom leather is a new innovative fabric in the market which feels a lot like suede. Because it is highly versatile and vegan, mushroom leather is one of the most popular leather replacements.

In comparison to animal leather, mushroom suede does all of the same tasks while posing no environmental risks. 

That said, when it comes to strength, this material is not as strong as leather, at least not yet. However, its breathability makes it a great choice for clothing and shoes.

Mushroom leather is the most expensive and rarest kind of faux suede, but it’s also the most environmentally friendly. It avoids animal husbandry and the destructive production process of plastics. Because it is plant-based, it does not emit harmful microfibers into the environment.

Summary 

The ability of a garment to last a long time is an important aspect of sustainability. This is the primary reason that animal suede is preferred as it is a very durable material. 

But the ethical and environmental consequences of the leather industry quickly counteract this. Livestock production accounts for roughly a third of greenhouse gas emissions. 14.5% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions globally come from animal agriculture.

Vegan suede that is used in the textile market currently repurposes a large number of discarded plastics. This prevents them from otherwise ending up in landfills or entering the oceans.

Suede made from plastic isn’t the most eco-friendly option due to chemicals used in the production process. There’s also the issue of microfiber pollution. Even so, it is considered by many to be a better and more humane option than traditional leather.

The performance of sustainable, biodegradable alternatives is expected to evolve. We can already see this unfold with mushroom leather.

The future of suede certainly looks synthetic and vegan!

Featured image: courtesy of Minuit Sur Terre

Divya is a content crafter at Vegan Avenue. She is a long-term happy vegan who is also enthusiastic about slow, mindful living in the company of cats.