The long and short of it: Alcantara is a synthetic composite which offers greater stain/abrasion resistance and durability compared to the organic material it emulates, suede. Though the Italian brand is hush-hush about their secret sauce, a deep dive into their sustainability report reveals that the production process includes thermoplastic polymers in the raw ingredients, which eventually produce the microfiber and its subsequent plush, suede-like pile. Incidentally, development of Alcantara has been continually tweaked over the decades, and because the manufacturing procedure involves a solvent coagulation process, the company is quick to mention their plant's strict environmental controls, and the carbon neutrality of its production process.
Alcantara tends to be featured on high-end European cars, though Asian manufacturers like Nissan are starting to get in on the pleasurable-yet-practical aspects of the material. For instance, remember Mercedes-Benz's late, great Maybach? The fat cat land yachts famously featured Alcantara in spots which were susceptible to cigar smoke stains, while real suede was reserved for more out-of-the-way areas.
Because of its color fastness to light and abrasion resistance, Alcantara is able to pass what some automakers refer to as the "Arizona test" for exposure to UV and heat. For vehicles fancy enough to claim Alcantara steering wheels (like certain Porsches, BMW "M" cars, and Lamborghinis, such as the Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera seen here), the complex torus shape of the wheel demands a different formulation of materials; more common is incorporation of Alcantara in interior trim pieces like seats and headliners.
VIDEO of the Alcantara fabric phone case
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