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Leather manufacturing
What kinds of "suede leather" are there?

In order to understand what “suede leather” really is, one must take a look at leather manufacturing:

Leather manufacturing

From the skin of animals...

It is well known that leather is made from animal skins. But not the entire skin is used to manufacture leather.

The skin consists of three layers:

1. Upper skin: Consists of horn skin and mucous membrane and serves to protect the living being. When manufacturing leather, this is removed, together with the hair.

2. True skin: Serves to actually manufacture leather. The upper layer is called the papillary layer and gives the upper surface of the leather its grain. The lower layer is called the reticular layer and gives the leather its elasticity and its tensile strength.

3. Lower skin: This connects the true skin to the muscle flesh and serves as a fat deposit. The lower skin is worthless for the leather and is removed before the tanning process.

... to leather:
To get from the animal skin to the leather that we all know, it must go through a series of processes:

1. Soaking: First, the animal skin (conserved or freshly slaughtered) is placed in soaking liquor, in which the blood, dirt, and preservatives are removed from the skin and the original water content is restored.

2. Removing hair and flesh: After a chemical pre-treatment, which makes the upper skin lose its hair, breaks down the fibrous tissue of the true skin and reduces the fatty substances - the hair is rubbed off mechanically. Thereafter, the de-haired true skin is separated from the unusable lower skin through so-called de-fleshing.

3. Splitting: The remaining true skin is divided mechanically into 2 - 3 layers, whereby the upper layer is called grain leather and the lowest layer is called split leather. Grain leather is made into nappa, boxcalf or nubuck leather, whereas the split leather is processed into suede leather. Splitting the true skin reduces its strength, but it cannot be avoided when manufacturing different types of leather that must have an even thickness (such as upper shoe leather or bag-maker leather).

4. Deliming, bating, scudding or satining: In order to make tanning possible, remaining organic material is removed chemically from the true skin during deliming and while simultaneously bating, the fibrous tissue of the true skin is broken down and at the same time preserved. Finally, remains of the upper skin such as sebaceous and sweat glands, roots of the hair and fatty substances are removed mechanically through scudding or satining.

The resulting product is called pelt, has a white colour, and consists only of true skin.

5. Tanning:

What is tanning done with?

The transition from pelt to leather is achieved through plant, synthetic, mineral or oily tanning material. In addition, a combination of different tanning materials can be used.

What happens during tanning? The skin fibres take up the active tanning substances from the tanning material solution. These substances form a chemical compound with the skin proteins. The existing protein fibres contract, harden, and interlace. Through this chemical process, the protein fibres in the pelt transform into so-called leather fibres. The compound is so strong that it is not possible to separate it later. The tanning material gives the pelt water and rot resistance, elasticity and flexibility.

Which tanning material is used for what?

i. Plant and vegetable tanning material (bark, roots, fruits ...): lower shoe leather, saddler leather and bag-maker leather

ii. Synthetic tanning material: fashion and luxury leather

iii. Mineral tanning material (for example chrome): furniture leather, upper shoe leather, leather for clothes, and glove leather

iiv. Oil tanning or chamois tanning: suede leather, window or car wash leather, leather for traditional leather trousers

Each individual tanning material gives the leather different characteristics and a different look.

6. Finishing: After tanning, the leather is processed further, depending on its use. Possible further processing steps include dewatering, washing out the excess tanning material, drying, shaving, brushing, rolling, hammering, buffing, oiling, dyeing, ... Buffing is done during the manufacture of all “suede leather” and gives it its rough velvety look.

(from: Hans Hegenauer, „Fachkunde für Lederverarbeitende Berufe“, 2001)

What kinds of "suede leather" are there?

Suede leather is falsely used as an overall term for the most different types of leather. To be precise, one differentiates between nubuck leather, velour leather, velvet leather, buckskin leather, and suede leather. These types of leather have little in common. They come from different animals and are processed differently.

Nubuck leather: For nubuck leather, clean-grained calf hides and cow hides, in part also pigskins are used, and the grainy side is given a velvety quality through slight buffing. It is usually tanned with a combination of chrome-synthetic and vegetable-chrome material, and is sold dyed. It is used to make summer shoes of all kinds, elegant leather ware, leather furniture and clothes.

Velour leather: For velour leather, either grain damaged hides and skins are used, which are then buffed on the flesh side, or else split leather is used. Velour leather is usually tanned with chrome or in combination, penetration dyed, and has coarser fibres than nubuck, whereas shape retention is lower. A shorter cut produces so-called velvet velour leather, a longer cut results in writing velour leather.

Velvet leather: Velvet leather is made of split calf or cow leather, it is chrome tanned and buffed on the flesh side.

Buckskin leather: The hide from chamois, deer, buck, East Indian goats, antelopes, gazelles, and reindeer serve as raw material for true buckskin leather. These are oil tanned or combination tanned and finished as velour on the grain side.

Suede leather: Suede leather is an imitation of buckskin. It is made from split calf or cow leather, and it is chrome tanned and finished. Suede leather is primarily used for upper leather for shoes and as clothing leather for leather jackets.

(from: Hans Hegenauer, „Fachkunde für Lederverarbeitende Berufe“, 2001)