No, suede is not vegan, because it is made from animal skin, normally lamb. The exception is ‘vegan suede,’ which isn’t actually suede, just a synthetic alternative that does not use animal products.
What is Suede?
Suede is a type of leather with a napped finish (the nap are the tiny hairs that give suede its ‘fuzzyness’). It is made from the underside of the animal’s skin and is softer, thinner, and weaker than normal leather (which is made from the top side). It is typically made out of lambskin, but may also be made from goat, pig, calf, or deerskin. Suede fabric is used in a wide range of products in the fashion industry, including clothing and shoes, and is also used to make some furniture.
How is Suede Made?
Suede starts with an animal, normally a lamb, which is slaughtered and skinned. Its hide is dried and hair follicles are removed using a chemical called lime. The hide is turned into leather using tannins (types of enzymes) and then treated using salts and oils.
The leather is then split: the soft underside used for suede is separated from the top. The resulting piece of suede may then be processed to further soften it and may be dyed. The material is then ready to be cut and sewed to create a garment or for use in products such as shoes or furniture.
What is Vegan Suede?
Vegan suede is a type of vegan leather, sometimes referred to as ‘faux leather’. The name is a catch-all for substitutes made out of a wide range of materials, but most are made out of plastics like PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or PU (polyurethane). In addition to using petroleum, the process of making these materials uses many chemicals, including toxic substances such as acetic acid and dimethylformamide.
Recent innovations have led to materials such as paper, cork, apple leather, recycle tires, and mushrooms being used to make suede substitutes. However, none of these have yet achieved widespread use compared to plastic alternatives.
Verdict: Should Vegans Buy Suede? What About Vegan Suede?
Vegans should not buy suede, and many try to avoid vegan suede. While the material itself is vegan, the process of making plastic-based alternatives is just as bad for the environment as making real leather. The fashion industry often touts these alternative fabrics as a more sustainable fabric, but the reality is that many of them are just as bad for the environment (and the animals that reside in it).