If you are anything like me, then you like the soft feel of velvet. The problem is that velvet requires quite a bit of maintenance and is not that durable. Nubuck leather does offer an alternative. What is nubuck leather? Nubuck leather is a type of buffed leather with allows for the surface to have fibers simulating the look and feel of velvet or suede.
What makes Nubuck preferable over velvet or suede?
The primary reason that I prefer nubuck leather over velvet, suede, or synthetic materials is the durability. Producers of velvet shoes and other clothing using velvet tend to have issues with sewing the material, leading many to use polyester velvets as an alternative.
Yet, with the synthetics comes, in my opinion, a loss of the authenticity of the product and a higher risk of poor craftsmanship. Nubuck leather shoes are made from top grain cattle leather, producing a thicker fabric than velvet which allows for the craftsman to manage the production of shoes, wallets, and such without the typical durability issues that weaker materials present.
Top leathers are hides which are from the outer side of the hide. The hide is then sanded down to remove any imperfections which may be upon the skin. Where in the “traditional” leathers this is a desirable trait, in attempting to simulate suede or velvet the imperfections are not necessary or wanted.
A softer material than “traditional” leather
When I think of leather products, the first images which come to my mind are Italian shoes, wallets, and belts. And while these products are definitively dominated by the traditional leather, they are not representative of versatility of leather, especially when it comes to nubuck leather. Think of it this way, the traditional leather has a very gruff texture which is needed for wallets and objects which will be folded and unfolded constantly.
The nubuck shoe, for example, does not require the same thickness of leather. The result is that there is a level of flexibility for the wearer which does not strain upon the seaming or compromise the overall design.
According to Wikipedia “Nubuck is similar to suede, but is created from the outer side of a hide, giving it more strength and thickness and a fine grain” Here the added thickness is on a per-layer basis rather than on the overall product.
To expound upon this a bit more: In traditional leather, he hide is presented unbuffed with the imperfections. To get the leather to a usable state, it must be layered (thus giving it a thicker state overall). Nubuck leather is thicker and requires less layers. So while he overall layer is thicker, the overall product tends to be slimmer.
What is Nubuck leather in comparison to mass produced material?
Apart from the durability which was mentioned earlier, synthetic materials pose several issues to the buyer. I am one of those consumers which uses the “you get what you pay for” mentality. Preferably, I chose products which are made singularly instead of mass produced. Granted, there are nubuck shoe distributors which mass produce, but there is a great deal of local leather artisans which also offer quality products as well.
Non-mass produced products, according to a report by Forbes, can have more consistent results by producing one flawless part at a time.
Joann Muller – Forbes Staff
And while the article by Forbes focused on single-cavity presses over massive injection methods, it can be safe to conclude that similar results would be found in machines which must cut, glue, press, stitch, and (as most shoes have rubber soles) mold would have a higher level of inconsistences in mass production than in single production. The point is that synthetic materials are typically used in mass production rather than at the local artisan level. The reason being that the materials are sold in bulk (both in size of the material rolls and in quality) which are unidealistic for the local business or leather artisan.
Nubuck leather is considered a high-quality or a luxury leather. This in itself puts the product above the mass production quality leathers. Due to the reputation of the leather, nubuck tends to be a bit on the expensive side comparatively. Yet, the added cost is substantiated in the added elasticity of the top grain leather and he versatility of use.
What about the maintenance of the leather?
Perhaps my biggest deterrent from a specific material is the maintenance and the upkeep which is required to keep the object in mint condition. This is one of the main reasons why I choose to find alternatives to velvet. Stains and dust seem to get into the threads of the material and it requires a deep level of cleaning, sometimes special equipment if you have sofas, to maintain. This is both costly and inefficient from my perspective.
When it comes to leather, the maintenance is typically a cleaner and a conditioner. Such is the case with Nubuck leather. The only concern that I have for the leather is in preserving the fibers which give the illusion of velvet. Some cleaners and solvents have proven to be a bid adverse to the preservation of that soft feel, and so anyone using a leather cleaner or conditioner should check the specifics. However, with the appropriate supplies, it is as simple as applying buffing the solution into the pores of the leather, letting it set in for a bit, and then wiping down the cleaner and spraying on the conditioner.
The downside of leather
Nubuck leather boots and shoes tend to be a bit more susceptible to water damage than the “traditional” leather. As with any leather product, water can cause the material to first expand (as leather is an absorbent material) and then over-compensate by shrinking as it dries. This puts strain on the glue, seams, and other areas of the shoe. Furthermore, the leather is apt to crack and tear if the leather is not treated regularly.
We have an article which talks about how to waterproof leather boots. Follow the instructions and you can rest assured with your shoes.
M.K – Leather Artisan
Apart from water damage, buyers should be aware that nubuck leather is a bit more susceptible to staining than standard thick leathers. Because the pores are opened up a bit more and there has been buffing of the surface, any stains or dirt which come in contact with the shoe should be treated immediately. The surface of nubuck also has to be dyed to begin with, so any dyes which are accidently added (for example wine or other such stains which tend to have permanent effects) may be harder to remove than if they were present on other opions.
Why you should buy Nubuck leather
While there are a few downsides to using a thinner leather for your shoes and apparel, the upside is that the material is still a great deal cheaper and more resistant to wear and tear than alternatives. The aesthetics of Nubuck leather is typically considered to be in the same league with top luxury products. This does not mean that you should shell out a great deal of money to own a pair of Nubuck Shoes or even to have a nubuck sofa. There are so many manufacturers that the price range varies tremendously.
Of course, the cheaper you go the more apt you are to have mixtures of synthetics and organic materials (which in my book is a recipe for a cheap product), but the choice is yours.
Cheaper, more durable, aesthetically pleasing, higher quality production, and easy maintenance make it clear that Nubuck leather is the solution for anyone who is looking for an alternative to velvet, standard leather, or synthetics.