The word suede originates from the French term ‘gants de Suede’, which means ‘gloves of Sweden’. In the late 18th century, Swedish leather artisans developed a way to use the skin of animals to create exquisitely soft gloves for women. These gloves became an incredibly popular import in France, especially amongst the nobility. Over time, the popularity of suede grew across Europe and the rest of the world.

By the 20th century, suede was being sung about by Elvis Presley, became the focus of sitcom episodes and was being featured prominently in luxury fashion house collections. To date, it's an incredibly popular material known for its unique, velvety smooth texture. But how is suede made? And what makes it so different from leather? 

In this suede leather guide, we answer these questions and many more, while giving you an insight into how we use deer suede leather to craft high-quality products such as our Leather Pouches and suede high-top sneakers.

What is suede?

Suede is a type of leather with a soft, napped, fuzzy surface that is created from the underside of animal hides. The characteristic velvety texture of suede sets it apart from other leather types, making it popular for various fashion and upholstery applications.

How is suede made?

The production of suede involves several steps. Firstly, animal hides are sourced and split, separating the top grain, which is used for full-grain leather, from the lower layers. Suede is made from the inner split, known as the ‘suede split’.

After this, tanning takes place to stabilise the proteins of the rawhide and prevent it from decomposing. We use a vegetable tanning process for our deer suede leather. All our vegetable-tanned leather undergoes an environmentally conscious process that foregoes the use of inorganic chromium, opting for mimosa bark extracts instead.

The suede is then buffed and sanded to create a consistent, velvety surface. This process raises small fibres, giving suede its signature luxurious, soft texture. The final product is then dyed and finished to enhance its appearance and durability.

What animals can suede be made from?

Suede can be made from the hides of many different animals, but the most common sources are cows, sheep, and goats. Each type of suede has its own unique characteristics and uses:

  • Cowhide suede: Suede made from cowhide is durable and has a slightly rougher texture compared to other types. It's often used for shoes, jackets, and upholstery.
  • Sheepskin suede: Suede derived from sheepskin is soft, lightweight, and has a finer nap. It's frequently used for making garments, gloves, and delicate accessories.
  • Goatskin suede: Goatskin suede is known for its softness, resistance, and excellent drape. It's commonly used for high-end fashion items like handbags.

Although these are the primary sources for suede, other animals' hides can also be used to create specialty suede products, however, they are less common in the mainstream market. Here at Billy Tannery, we use deer suede that we procure through routine deer culling that takes place in the UK. Every hide is fully traceable and is transformed into high-quality products within our Parkland Deer range.

Is suede leather good quality?

Although suede may look and feel different to what most people think of when they hear the word leather, suede is a high-quality form of leather. Its softness, unique texture, and luxurious appearance make it highly usable and desirable for a large array of garments, shoes, accessories, and furniture.

What makes suede different from leather?

Aside from suede being derived from a different part of the animal hide than leather, it does have several other key differences. Normal leather is glossy and waterproof; however, suede is matte and highly permeable. This means it also requires more delicate care compared to full-grain leather due to its sensitivity to water and stains.

Full-grain leather is usually quite thick. In contrast, suede leather tends to be thinner. This makes it lighter and more flexible, making it easier to work with and ideal for garments and shoes.

What can suede be used for?

Suede's soft and velvety texture makes it a popular choice for various fashion and upholstery items. Common uses of suede include shoes, boots, and sandals, as well as jackets, coats, and accessories like handbags and wallets. Suede is also used in the interior design sphere for furniture, cushions, and decorative items.

We used deer suede to create a variety of products including our sustainable Parkland Sneakers, rich dark brown suede ziptop backpacks and timeless tote bags.

If you want to learn more about different types of leather, check out our guides comparing deer vs goat leather, cow vs goat leather and goat vs sheep leather. Or take a look at our deer suede leather range to see how we transform sustainable suede into stylish and functional leather goods.

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