Unlike regular garments, suede and leather garments are exempt from the Federal Trade Commission’s care labeling regulations. In other words, care labeling on a suede and leather garment is voluntary on the part of the manufacturer, whether domestic or foreign.
Furthermore, many manufacturers who voluntarily sew care labels into their suede and leather garments have not tested the serviceability (i.e. the cleanability using different methods and/or dry cleaning solvents or fluids) of their garments prior to production and sale.
In addition, there may be inherent defects in the skins used in the construction of suede and leather garments and in the tanning and dyeing techniques used by the processors of such skins – defects that are not clearly visible to the naked eye.
As such, clients ought to be fully informed of some of the more common issues unique to the cleaning of suede and leather garments, and what can and cannot be expected from the cleaning of an animal skin.
There are a number of common issues unique to the cleaning of suede and leather garments:
Due to poor tanning, poor dyeing, and the use of dry cleaning solvent-soluble dyes, many suede and leather garments will lose varying amounts of color during cleaning. This problem is particularly acute in pigskins and lambskins.
While a skilled suede and leather cleaner can refinish or restore the color in a garment to a close match, all too often it is impossible to refinish the garment to the exact original color. It is for this reason that you should always clean matching pieces at the same time.
Because of the porous nature of animal hides, and their poor dye affinity, dye crocking can be a problem. Abrasion from the tumbling action of the cleaning process – and even from normal wear – can cause localized discolorations or fading.
During the tanning process, the hides are impregnated with fats and oils that add suppleness and texture to the hides. Some of these fats and oils are lost during the cleaning process. While a skilled suede and leather cleaner can restore the suppleness using special additives, it is not always possible to restore all the fats and oils. This can lead to a noticeable change in texture and feel.
Furthermore, most suede and leather garments require refinishing after processing. The added “surface” from refinishing can change the texture of the hide, or cause it to lose some suppleness.
During manufacture, skins are stretched to obtain a uniform surface.
The problem is that some manufacturers overstretch their skins to maximize surface area (i.e. production output).
During processing, the skins may relax, resulting in shrinkage, puckering and distortion. Skins cannot always be stretched back (“blocked”) to it’s original size.
When buying a suede and leather garment, particularly tight fitting pants, skirts and dresses, consider purchasing a slightly larger size to accommodate the possibility of relaxation shrinkage.
It is very common for a suede or leather garment to gradually mold to the body lines of the wearer.
After cleaning, this molded body line is often lost and straight lines predominate. This could lead the wearer to believe that the garment has shrunk in cleaning, when, in fact, it has not shrunk.
Color and texture in a suede or leather garment may vary if the manufacturer uses skins from different parts of the animal. If the garment contains skins that are mismatched, the color and texture of the garment may become uneven after processing.
Suede and leather garments have poor resistance to fading from light (natural and artificial) and from atmospheric gases. This is very common in vibrant colors such as pinks, blues, purples, greens, and even in some browns and blacks. Pre-existing damage due to fading may be hidden by common soil. Once the garment is cleaned, the fading can reveal itself.
A skilled suede and leather cleaner can often restore the color in skins that have a smooth finish. However, restoring the color in a lambskin and pigskin suede is often a challenge.
Most animal skins have imperfections or defects. These are natural characteristics of the animal. Defects in the skins such as scars, vein marks or insect bites may be masked or hidden during manufacture by the use of masking agents, such as fillers.
After cleaning, these masking agents, or even the skin defects themselves, may not accept the refinishing dyes.
Furthermore, the masking agents may be dry cleaning solvent-soluble and dissolve during the cleaning process, revealing the underlying irregularities in the hide.
Hides taken from the stomach area of the animal are of poorer quality. These skins are often uneven in texture and are wrinkled, a condition that becomes more apparent after cleaning.
Skins taken from an animal vary in thickness. In order to obtain a uniform thickness, these skins are shaved or “scythed”.
Improperly scythed skins will result in hides that are too thin. This will cause the hide to develop weak areas that could possibly rip or tear in the cleaning process.
Manufacturers often use glue adhesives when constructing suede and leather garments, particularly in areas such as cuffs, collars, zippers, buttonholes and edges. Many of these adhesives are soluble in a variety of dry cleaning solvents, as well as in water.
When these adhesives dissolve, they will often discolor the hide by bleeding through the outer skin. It is almost impossible to tell if a garment has a soluble glue problem until after the garment has been cleaned.
Many suede and leather garments have multi-colored panels. If any of these colors are dry cleaning solvent-soluble, there is the possibility that the darker colors may transfer or bleed onto the lighter colors during processing.
All colors in a multi-colored suede or leather garment should be tested for dye stability prior to cleaning.
Nonetheless, even after testing, these garments may not always show the signs of dye transfer or bleeding until after the cleaning process has been completed.
Protein stains, like milk, egg and blood, are very difficult to remove on a suede or leather garment.
Some damage to the color or the skin may occur when aggressive attempts are made to remove these protein stains.
Ink stains — non-permanent or permanent, water soluble or solvent soluble — are very difficult to remove on a suede or leather garment.
Some damage to the color or the skin may occur when aggressive attempts are made to remove ink stains.
Skins may loose some of their vital fats and oils due to improper storage in a hot, humid environment. This could result in a loss of suppleness, or in shrinkage as much as 15%.
Ideally, suede and leather garments should be stored like furs – in a climate controlled environment that that ranges from 45 degrees (ideal) to 55 degrees (acceptable) Fahrenheit.
Spots and stains on pigskins are difficult to remove for two reasons: first, there is very little nap in a pigskin and, second, the fiber structure of a pigskin allows spots and stains to penetrate deep into the skin.
You can identify a pigskin suede by the little tiny holes in the skin. These holes are the hair holes, and when stains have penetrated deeply into these holes, it is difficult to lift the stains from the skin without causing damage to the skin or color.
Cowhides have a rough texture and are difficult to refinish. Cowhides may also exhibit greater color and oil loss during cleaning than with other leathers, creating a harsher feel after the cleaning process.
Cowhides that are extremely soiled and show wear lines of soil, may still show these wear lines after the cleaning process, but the wear lines will be clean. Cowhide will also show more shading lines after the cleaning process that cannot always be “disguised” by refinishing.
When a solid black or brown suede or leather garment is cleaned, the soil is removed and the garment is then reconditioned and refinished to an even color.
By contrast, when antique and distressed leather is cleaned, it is almost impossible to duplicate the exact original finish through refinishing.
This naturally leads to the question: should an antique or distressed leather garment be cleaned? And, if so, what results can be reasonably expected?
At RAVE FabriCARE, we specialize in cleaning and/or restoring bespoke, made-to-measure, designer and high fashion garments. This specialty includes suede and leather garments.
Accordingly, we employ the utmost care when hand cleaning your suede and leather garments.
Before proceeding any further, it's important to understand why we only hand clean all your suede and leather garments instead of "cleaning" them in a dry cleaning machine.
Let's start with the nature of dry cleaning fluids and solvents.
At its most basic level, dry cleaning fluids and solvents are emulsifiers or dissolvers of oils and fats. If you have an oil stain on a silk blouse or shirt, your dry cleaner tosses that blouse or shirt into a dry cleaning machine and, more often than not, that stain miraculously disappears.
The problem is that the natural oils and fats in the skin of your suede and leather garment is critical to maintaining the suppleness of the skin over the long term.
So dry cleaning your suede and leather garment in a dry cleaning machine has the effect of "stripping" some of those natural oils and fats out of the skin, potentially causing the skin to stiffen over time.
Bottom line: If you're looking for a "cleaner" that will toss your suede and leather garments into a dry cleaning machine, please eliminate RAVE FabriCARE from any consideration.
At RAVE FabriCARE, our goal is to deliver the BEST TECHNOLOGICALLY ACHIEVABLE RESULTS, given the:
Unlike garments comprised of fabric, suede and leather garments are subject to many more unknowns, including but not limited to:
Many suede and leather garments we receive for cleaning have pre-existing conditions:
Given these unknown and pre-existing conditions, amongst others factors, it’s impossible to predict, in advance of cleaning, the specific results that can be achieved.
As such, no guarantees can or will be provided that the suede or leather garment can or will be restored to “showroom new” condition.
Please be aware that your local dry cleaner may tell you that they can "clean" your suede and leather garments, transforming them to “showroom new” condition.
That statement is a stretch. At best.
That’s because the overwhelming majority of dry cleaners do NOT clean their own leather and suede garments. So they don’t fully understand the intricacies associated with caring for fine suede and leather garments.
Instead of doing their own work, they ship their suede and leather garments to unknown, out-of-state subcontractors who "mass clean" your suede and leather garments in a dry cleaning machine. Your local cleaner then profits by the difference between the price they are charged by the subcontractor and the price charged to you.
And if, in your opinion, the results achieved by the subcontractor is "below par", your local cleaner deflects all personal responsibility by shifting responsibility onto the subcontractor. "Don't blame me, blame the subcontractor" is a typical retort.
At RAVE FabriCARE, we won’t sugarcoat your likely results. We'll tell you what we believe we can and cannot achieve, given the pre-existing condition of the garment.
Unlike ordinary cleaners who promise you the world, we only promise to deliver the BEST TECHNOLOGICALLY ACHIEVABLE RESULTS given the pre-existing condition of the garment.
Consider this scenario:
A client brought in a 4 year old, mint-colored Brunello Cucinelli suede dress with a large red wine spill and splatter down the front. Upon picking up the dress, the client complimented us on the cleaning results. “You guys did a great job,” she says. Then, at the last moment, the client noticed a small pinkish spot on the hem at the lower front of the dress that could not be removed or further mitigated without damage to the skin itself.
The client then feigned alarm.
“You guaranteed that the dress would look like new…..I’m not paying a penny for this work…..this is a $3,000 designer dress…..I’m going to sue you for ruining my dress”.
Think that this is unusual or unreasonable scenario?
Unfortunately, cleaners who specialize in bespoke, made-to-measure, designer, high fashion and specialty suede and leather garments are often confronted by clients who believe that every suede and leather garment --irrespective of age and condition -- that cannot be fully restored to “showroom new” condition represents an opportunity to be fully compensated for the original cost of that suede and leather garment.
This, despite the fact that the garment might have been purchased many years ago. Despite the fact that they might have abused the garment over that period of time. And despite the fact that they were fully informed that perfection is, more often than not, an unattainable goal.
Given the unpredictable nature of skins and the unpredictability of the results that can be reasonably achieved, we require your written authorization to utilize all appropriate suede and leather hand cleaning methods that, in our judgment, might be necessary to restore and/or enhance the condition of your garment.
Please note that we will not commence any work on any suede and leather garment without a signed Release Form on file.
We thank you, in advance, for your understanding.
At RAVE FabriCARE we clean, condition and restore modern, designer varsity letterman jackets with leather sleeves. From brands such as Alexander McQueen, Amiri, Balenciaga, Celine, Dolce & Gabbana, Givency, Gucci, Offwhite, Ralph Lauren, Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton and Versace.
As a general rule, we do not clean, condition and restore varsity letterman jackets that can be described as "vintage" to any degree.
Why? Because, more often than not, "vintage" varsity letterman jackets have multiple "issues". Barring any special, sentimental value, your investment in the restoration process, will, in all probability, far exceed the the "value" of the garment after restoration.
These "issues" might include the following:
The leather sleeves have dried out (think: beef jerky); the leather paint on the sleeves is scratched, peeled or has been "repainted" with paints purchased at a hardware store; the wool fabric used to construct the body of the garment is moth eaten (some holes are clearly visible to the naked eye; other holes are partially invisible); the multi-colored stripe on the ribbed collar, cuffs and/or waistband is moth eaten and/or torn and identical replacements cannot be sourced despite an extensive investment in research (solid and other striped alternatives may be available but may not be identical).
At RAVE FabriCARE, we do not clean and glaze fur garments.
The reason is simple: Fur garments need to be stored in special facilities where the temperature and relative humidity is strictly controlled. These facilities are commonly called "cold storage" facilities.
Because we're based in Arizona -- where there are no true storage facilities -- the vast majority of the fur garments we see have been improperly stored over the years. As a result, the underlying skins have, in many cases, dried out and are brittle.
Accordingly, any attempt, to clean these fur garments could potentially result in tears in the underlying skin. Or worse. And that's a risk we're not prepared to accept ... even if a potential client insists that, to the best of their knowledge, the fur has been "correctly" stored over time.
If you live in Arizona, we suggest that you contact a skilled furrier and/or fur glazing/storage facility located in a city such as New York or Chicago with an established fur trade community.