In the past, the color of suede was a good indicator as to its authenticity. However, many skins are dyed to imitate the range of colors used in the world of imitation suedes.
Natural suede is made by abrading an animal skin to produce a napped, velvet-like surface. Suede skins usually contain inconsistencies in the surface hairs, skin defects from disease and wounds, and a coarser surface texture on the reverse side.
Imitation suede is made from synthetic fibers in a non-woven construction or with a flocked pile adhered to a woven or knit base. The flocked pile suede is easily recognized by this base fabric, but the non-woven imitation suede can be difficult to distinguish from the real thing. Clues that distinguish an imitation suede include a similar appearance on both sides of the fabric, a smooth, even nap, and a defect-free surface. A label indicating that the garment should be cleaned like any fine fabric also suggests that the fabric is a synthetic suede.
Natural suede should be cleaned by an acceptable leather-cleaning method. Imitation suedes are usually labeled as drycleanable. Use very clear solvent in cleaning, as the non-wovens readily absorb impurities. In addition, minimize agitation and reduce heat (less than 120°F.) in tumble drying.
Photo caption: The synthetic suede finish is coming off this sport jacket from normal use and later cleaning.
If you would like more information, please see the following bulletins in DLI’s Drycleaning Encyclopedia:
- Fabrics & Fashion No. 514: Imitation Suede, DLI bulletin
- TABS No. 461: Damage to Synthetic Suede Finish
- TABS No. 482: Faux Suede & Flock Velvet Finishes