patagonia, the north face, responsible down, clothing, animal rights
A majority of down comes from birds that live and die in appalling conditions.

Where Does Your Down Come From?

Two new initiatives from The North Face and Patagonia aim to only use feathers from birds that have never been live-plucked or force fed.

patagonia, the north face, responsible down, clothing, animal rights

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You probably love your down puffy jacket. While jacket makers are devising better and better synthetic insulations all the time, in terms of its compressibility and warmth-to-weight ratio, down still can’t be beat.

What you might not love is the process by which that down arrived in your jacket. For the most part, goose and duck feathers are a byproduct of the meat industry. As we reported last year on the skyrocketing price of down, most of the word’s feathers comes from China (70 percent) and Eastern Europe (25 percent), where the birds are raised for their meat.

At this point, I think we’ve all seen the movies and know that this is often a gruesome affair. Feathers are usually “live plucked” off the birds which, according to groups like Four Paws, an independent animal welfare group based in Germany, is as painful as it sounds. And, if the birds are also being raised to make fois-gras, they’re usually force-fed to fatten up their livers. The preferred method is to ram a food pipe down the birds’ throats to do so.

Appalled by the practices and prodded into action by groups like Four Paws, two of the biggest U.S. gear manufacturers have spearheaded initiatives to prevent the mistreatment of the waterfowl used in their supply chains. In August, The North Face announced its Responsible Down Standard (RDS) and, last week, Patagonia debuted its Traceable Down Standard. Both programs have been in the works for a few years.

The down supply chain is highly complex and centuries old. Many of the farmers and processers in China and Europe are not industrialized, and thousands of farms have to be trained and audited. While Patagonia’s standard is a bit stricter, both have the same goal: to source down only from birds that have never been live-plucked or force-fed. Starting this fall, all Patagonia products will only contain down that they’ve been able to “trace.” Thirty percent of TNF’s line will contain RDS-certified next fall, with the goal of a 100 percent by 2017.

As roughly 80 percent of the down imported into the U.S. is used in sleeping bags and outdoor apparel, this is a big deal. Even better, both standards are open-source, so that any company sourcing down can adopt it to improve its supply chain and the end product for consumers. H&M, Eddie Bauer, Marmot, Mammut, Helly Hansen, Outdoor Research, and others have all signed on to adopt the Responsible Down Standard.

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