If you want to give new life to a vintage chair, couch or ottoman the animal-friendly way, you can opt to reupholster it with faux suede or faux leather. Pay less and see it last longer if you do.

More people are giving faux a try, with demand for vegan leather up 50% a year, according to a report from Infinium Global Research. It helps that the materials are getting better than in the Mad Men days of shinny vinyl!

“I think a lot of people are into what's practical, what's going to hold up and be easier to clean,” said Betsy Vega, Pasadena store manager of Calico Corners, a national home fabrics chain that carries vegan leather popular for its quality and price. “I think it's more about holding up well with our kids, dogs and husbands.”

Like other stores, the company is seeing customers choosing what they think looks great and what the design team in the shop assures them wears best, she said. What the team has to offer today is a step up from the faux options available when the company got its start more than 70 years ago!

“People are leaning more towards performance fabric. It's going to withstand kids, pets, parties. It's fade resistant, stain resistant,” Vega said.

Faux Suede Upholstery Fabric

Vegan suede upholstery fabric is often made of polyester microfiber, a fancier version of that stuff many of us use to clean and polish our cars. In other words, faux suede is woven of plastic, a fiber version of the same material in water bottles. In fact, recycled containers are often used to make faux suede, aka microfiber.

It's not a stretch, then, that vegan suede is more durable than real suede, that it is less likely to tear and is so much easier to clean. It's also cheaper.

Calico Corners sells a microfiber product called Sensuede, made from recycled polyester and recycled packaging. It is “buffed with fine sandpaper to create a soft, sensuous suede-like hand,” according to the manufacturer, and “finished with stain-resistant, anti-static and water repellent agents.”

Sensuede faux suede swatches in a rainbow of colors plus neutrals at Calico Corners in Pasadena

The material is one of Calico Design Consultant Karen Steinberg's favorites and goes for just under $100 a yard today.

“It upholsters so beautifully; it handles tufting and curves,” said Steinberg, pictured above. “Any piece I've ever seen upholstered in this faux suede, it just looks gorgeous.”

Sensuede brand of vegan suede upholstery swatches in vibrant greens

Steinberg has a bachelor's degree in textile design and worked as a fabric designer for years before many of the roles moved to China, so she should know. She eventually pivoted to a certification from the American Society of Interior Designers and a new career.

Like other consultants at the store she gets to know clients well, offering expert advice based on their own spaces. She has a great story of a customer who chose to cover a sectional in white Sensuede. White. For her family room, with dogs and kids.

“That stuff I would use all day,” she said, adding that she hasn't had any complaints from them so far. “Because it's “high performance,” it's easy to clean.”

I imagine it could have looked a bit like this example below, designed for the home of No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal.

Stienberg's favorites are still the highly saturated colors like the bright pinks. They don't fade, and the fabric takes bright colors very well.

Faux Leather Upholstery Fabric

Not all faux leather is created equal. The high-end vegan leather sold at finer stores can perform better. To check, ask whether the fabric you are looking at has a “double-rub” rating. That's a durability standard used in the U.S. to let consumers know how many times a fabric can be rubbed back and forth by thick canvas mounted on a mechanical arm during testing.

faux leather swatches in red and grey at Calico Corners in Pasadena sold as upholstery fabric

Anything above 15,000 rubs is “heavy duty.” Checking some of the faux leathers I liked best when I hit the Calico Corners showroom, their faux leather has a rating of 30,000 rubs.

I noticed that unlike that vegan leather jacket you may have purchased from a discount store on a whim, there isn't a backing on the materials I viewed. I know one complaint of cheaper materials is that the layers separate.

You can see for yourself what it looks like, coming in so many colors from metallic to matte, and various textures from subtle to exotic. The store also offers appointments during regular business hours to check it out yourself.

The price is also cheaper, and it's easy to come by. Even the popular home store West Elm is selling vegan leather by the yard.

Some companies are even offering vegan leather made from apples and pineapples, though it can be difficult to purchase by the yard, and it not clear whether these new materials work well for upholstery.

Reupholstery Stuffing that's Vegan

Sure, you can stuff a couch with wool or feathers, but there are so many faux options at most places, it almost doesn't need mentioning. At Calico Corners they'll sell you a couch, the fabric to go on it and do the customization in their own shop, or they'll refinish your vintage piece if you bring it in.

Of course you can buy the fabric on its own. If you do, you or your reupholster vendor will have to decide on a polyurethane foam, springs and polyester stuffing. Like fabrics, they are rated for firmness and longevity.

Vegan Reupholstery Process

There are plenty of DIY videos and articles for upholstering your own furniture. If you check out a few reupholstering tips, you may notice that some urge people to tackle small projects like adding cushions to wooden dining chairs, while sending the bigger projects to the pros.

It is a ton of work to do a great job on a complicated piece, and you risk damaging or ruining your fabric. But if you have the will and the time and want to reupholster yourself, some determined do-it-yourselfers have signed up for a class to get expert guidance.

Steinberg has done a simple upholstery project to place fabric seat covers on dining room chairs, with help of a friend, but she wouldn't tackle a sofa or overstuffed chair.

“Unless you really have experience, serious upholstery projects, sofas or chairs, I think it's best to leave to an experienced upholsterer,” she said.