In our latest exclusive “Sneaker Ingredients” installment, Counter Kicks examines Suede. Continue reading for a better look at Suede’s properties, its use in the footwear industry, and notable sneakers that employ the material…
An ingredient for a more luxurious feel in today’s athletic footwear, suede is a leather with a soft, napped finish. The name can also refer to a similar finish on other types of materials. This leather is developed from the under-skin of animals such as cows, lambs, goats, pigs and deer, and can be dyed virtually any color to accommodate the product for which it will be used. Suede produced from different animal sources can be treated to achieve a relatively uniform grain and appearance but suede from cowhide and deerhide stands out because those skins have unique fiber construction that results in a shaggier suede nap than other hide types are capable of yielding.
The word Suede comes from the French phrase gants de Suède which means “Gloves of Sweden”. Suede’s purported first use was for the manufacture of women’s gloves in mid-19th century Sweden because of its cozy consistency and velvety feel. Due to its softness and pliability, suede began to be widely used in products as various as clothing, upholstery, bags, shoes, and linings for other leather goods.
Because suede does not include the tough exterior skin layer, it is less durable during repeat wear than standard full-grain leather, and its open surface can absorb liquids and dirt quickly, often making its maintenance more challenging than other sneaker materials. It is continually used in athletic footwear because it can be finished in various grades, affording its wearer a comfortable, premium look and also a change of pace from footwear that employ more commonly-used leathers. It also tends to be rather expensive because its production is particularly time-intensive and its comfort is generally desired over that of many other leathers.
Notable sneakers to have showcased suede include Air Jordan XVIII (cowhide suede upper), Air Jordan XXI (cowhide suede upper), New Balance 574 (cowhide suede upper overlays), New Balance 993 (pigskin suede upper overlays), and Puma Suede (cowhide suede upper).
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