Suede, Leather and Fur Garments

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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.

Issues unique to the cleaning of suede and leather garments

There are a number of common issues unique to the cleaning of suede and leather garments:

Color loss

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.

Dye crocking

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.

Change in texture and feel

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.

Relaxation shrinkage

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.

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.

Mismatched skins

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.

Oxidation fading

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.

Hide defects

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.

Belly wrinkles

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.

Thin skins

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.

Soluble adhesives

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.

Multicolor dye transfer

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

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

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.

Improper storage

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.

Pigskins

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.

Split cowhides

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.

Antique or Distressed Skins

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?

Our goal: delivering the  best achievable results

At RAVE FabriCARE, we specialize in cleaning and/or restoring bespoke, made-to-measure, designer, high fashion and specialty suede, leather and fur garments.

Accordingly, we employ the utmost care when hand cleaning your suede, leather and fur garments.

At RAVE FabriCARE, our goal is to deliver the BEST ACHIEVABLE RESULTS, given the

  • type of skin involved,
  • quality of the skin involved,
  • dyes/pigments used,
  • non-removable trims, buckles, belts, buttons, beads and sequins,
  • existing wear and tear,
  • nature and extent of the soiling and staining, and the
  • time provided to us to execute the work.

Unlike garments comprised of fabric, suede, leather and fur garments are subject to many more unknowns, including but not limited to:

  • Certain types of soil and stains may not be removable irrespective of the quality of the work performed.
  • Overstretched skins might shrink after cleaning.
  • Differences in the natural grains of the skins might become more evident after cleaning.
  • Imperfections and marks that are inherent in the skins might become more visible after cleaning.
  • The feel and drape of the garment might change after cleaning.
  • Unstable dyes/pigments used by the manufacturer might result in fading after cleaning.
  • Unstable dyes/pigments used by the manufacturer might result in color variations from panel to panel.
  • Skins underlying fur garments might have dried out and become brittle due to improper storage.

Many suede, leather and fur garments we receive for cleaning have

  • Spoil and stains that may not be removable irrespective of the quality of the work performed.
  • Ordinary and/or abusive wear and tear.
  • Water stains and color loss from attempts by the client to “spot clean” a garment at home.
  • Dyes that cannot withstand conventional cleaning methods, processes or solvents.
  • Holes or tears due to the degradation of the fabric while hanging or wearing.
  • Trimmings, buckles, beads, buttons, belts and sequins that cannot be removed prior to cleaning and then replaced after cleaning.
  • Sun or artificial light fading or color loss due to non-color fast dyes.
  • Existing shrinkage due to improper pre-shrinkage of garments by manufacturers.

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 garment can or will be restored to “showroom new” condition.

The overwhelming majority of dry cleaners employ subcontractors

Please be aware that your local dry cleaner may tell you that they can and will restore your suede and leather garments 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. Then they profit by the difference between the price they are charged and the price charged to you. 

At RAVE FabriCARE, we won’t sugarcoat your likely results. What we will tell you is that our goal is to deliver the BEST ACHIEVABLE RESULTS. That’s all we can promise you.

And we’ll deliver the very best achievable results even if your suede, leather and fur garments have been contaminated by fire, smoke, soot, water, mold, mildew and/or humidity as a result of a fire or flood.

Written consent required on every suede, leather and fur garment

Consider this scenario:

A client brought in a 4 year old, light blue 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?

Think again.

That really happened!

Unfortunately, cleaners who specialize in bespoke, made-to-measure, designer, high fashion and specialty suede, leather and fur garments are often confronted by clients who believe that every suede, leather or fur garment that’s not restored to “showroom new” condition represents an opportunity to be fully compensated for the original cost of that suede, leather or fur 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 in the cleaning of a leather, suede or fur garment 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 conventional suede, leather and fur cleaning methods and/or any additional methods which may be necessary in order to restore and/or enhance the condition of your garment.

Please note that we will not commence any work on any suede, leather or fur garment without a signed consent form on file.

We thank you, in advance, for your understanding.

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