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Ultrasuede is the trade name for a synthetic microfiber fabric invented in 1970 by Dr. Miyoshi Okamoto, a scientist working for Toray Industries. In Japan it is sold under the brand name Ecsaine. It's an ultra-microfiber. It is often described as an artificial substitute for suede leather. The fabric is multifunctional: it is used in fashion, interior decorating, automotive and other vehicle upholstery, and industrial applications, such as protective fabric for electronic equipment. It is also a very popular fabric in the manufacture of footbags (also known as hacky sacks). Other manufacturers such as Sensuede and Majilite also produce similar product lines of synthetic microfiber suede construction.
Fabric content ranges from 80% polyester non-woven (100% recycled ultra-microfiber) and 20% non-fibrous polyurethane to 65% polyester and 35% polyurethane depending on the product line. Ultrasuede feels like natural suede, but it is resistant to stains and discoloration; it can be washed in a washing machine. It has a woven fabric surface, but resists pilling or fraying because it is combined with a polyurethane foam in a non-woven structure. As with its Italian sister fabric, Alcantara, automotive grade Ultrasuede meets OEM specifications as well as FMVSS302 flammability requirements for automotive use as well as it being virtually identical on both sides, making it somewhat reversible.
Ultrasuede has applications in high-end fashion including shoes, interior furnishings, industrial use, and marine & automotive (such as in seating, dash trimming and headliners in many high-end OEM automotive suppliers).
Ultrasuede vs. Alcantara
What is the difference between Ultrasuede (as it is known in the US and a registered trademark of Toray Ultrasuede (America), Inc., the U.S.-based marketing arm for the man-made suede) and Alcantara (as it is known in Europe and made by Alcantara S.p.A which is 70% owned by Toray Industries, Inc.)? Both are a man-made suede made from a polymer microfiber. Both were created in the 1970s and are commonly referred to as ultra-microfiber.
The Alcantara product is produced in the city of Terni in Italy, while the Ultrasuede product is produced in Japan. They are very similar for the most part with the Alcantara product being available in: 1) non-backed versions, 2) backed with a poly woven fabric backing, and 3) a foam backing. Ultrasuede is available in non-backed versions and backed with a poly woven fabric backing. The production of the products is identical with the only real difference being in the dyeing process: Alcantara has a slightly mottled appearance while the Ultrasuede is a little more rich and consistent in its dye/color.
Most of the confusion is related to the automotive lines. Alcantara has a number of automotive lines including Cover, Formal, Compact, Panel, Soft, and Perform (all with slightly different qualities depending on the application). However, there are only two types of Ultrasuede lines designated for the automotive market: Ultrasuede Ambiance - wide array of colors with no backing, and Ultrasuede Milano - this has a backing material applied to it and is more suitable for automotive applications such as seat upholstery.
Both materials are made in the same manner and to the same specifications with the only difference being the products color range and appearance. "After Ultrasuede started being produced in Italy under its European name, Alcantara, Okamoto would be named recipient of the Leonardo Prize, for contributing to the global luster of MADE IN ITALY." Clever marketing and a wise placement of a production facility on Toray’s part gave them a product that was a direct competitor for Italian leather. Sadly, due to lack of brand recognition, the term 'Ultrasuede' has been used to describe most all microfiber suedes on the market.
- Skinner & Sons History
- Robert Kanigel Faux real: genuine leather and 200 years of inspired fakes, National Academies Press, 2007 ISBN 0-309-10236-7 p. 169
- Ultrasuede Soft
- Ultrasuede Ambiance
- Ultrasuede for Automotive
- Toray to Expand Man-Made Suede
- Robert Kanigel Faux real: genuine leather and 200 years of inspired fakes, National Academies Press, 2007 ISBN 0-309-10236-7 p. 192