With so many different products on the market, it's hard to differentiate the difference between types of suede. I know as a fabric retailer that the average consumer does not have time to sort it all out on their own- and even if they wanted to know- there is so much dis-information out there that I feel the subject needs some clarification. Pass this topic on to any of your friends who may be in the market.
Suede is popular right now. Big surprise, but almost every fabric company offers some variety of suede fabric and every furniture company has some couch, sectional, or chair covered with it.
I am not going to try to direct you to any particular brand or company that offers it (for complete non-disclosure, I'll be up front and tell you that I do sell suede fabrics)- you should always shop around for the best price, colors, or fit for your project. What I will do, however, is go over a few things that are commonly misunderstood.
1. Not all suedes are created alike
I like to call point number one- there is only one Ultrasuede. Ultrasuede is a patented brand name fabric. It is made in Japan by a company called Toray. They created the process to create Ultrasuede and it involves fusing together millions of microscopic strands of material together to make a virtually indestructible fabric. The wholesale price for Ultrasuede is very steep. Suffice it to say, you probably won't find Ultrasuede for under $80 per yard at very many places. The typical generic suede costs much less- and is almost always made in China. One store that I worked for bought it by the roll and sold it for just under $20 per yard.
Fabric durability is measured in double rubs. A double rub is an abrasion test that is supposed to reproduce normal use. I don't know how much wear your butt will do to a fabric- but if you figure that people tend to move around while sitting, or have hard objects like keys or cell phones or wallets in their pockets- then you will start to see the actual wear and tear involved in sitting down.
Ultrasuede rates at 250,000 double rubs. Your generic suede? Between 30,000 and 50,000. What does that mean? Well, mathematically, Ultrasuede is five times more durable. If you cost average based on use- you will see that you come out slightly ahead using ultrasuede - not to mention the fact you won't have to reupholster your furniture as much.
3. Colors? Brand name suedes typically are offered in collections of 80-100 colors. Generic suedes- such as Ritz from Showcase Fabrics or Passion Suede from Morgan Fabrics come in much smaller collections. Most generic suede colors are made for sale to lower end furniture manufacturers- so you will find lots of neutrals- colors will tend to be jewel tone. Higher end suedes are too expensive for the furniture trade to buy and use for mass production. Even at wholesale a 20 yard couch of Ultrasuede will cost Baker Furniture or Henredon $1500 or so just in fabric. This is why better fabrics are offered for custom jobs than for mass produced furniture.
4. Quality Control. My former fabric company had a problem. We sold a lipstick colored suede to a customer who upholstered her couch, sat on the couch once it was delivered, got up, and noticed her White Channel Pants had a big red mark on her backside. This issue is called "crocking" and it happens more often than you'd think with low quality fabrics. Obviously, my company did the best we could to make it right- but without an explicit warranty from the manufacturer- you are pretty much on your own if this issue pops up.
5. In closing- there are many high quality suedes out there. Robert Allen, Duralee, Kravet and Schumacher (just to name a few) have their own excellent lines of suede. There is only one Ultrasuede, however- and now that you know the difference you will look at suedes from a completely different perspective.