Sascha Camilli uncovers the hidden abuse behind feathers - and the high-tech vegan down alternatives that will replace them
Unlike fur which has been banned by many fashion brands, feathers and down are still in high demand.
Down is most often used in bedding, cushions and in winter jackets for warmth as it is lightweight and a good insulator.
In fact, puffer jackets are a winter fashion staple for many people. But there is a dark side to the puffy outerwear trend.
When I first started out in animal rights activism, I was naturally drawn to the anti-fur movement. Interestingly, I found that I often noticed how puffer jackets were often held up as less cruel alternatives to fur coats.
I had a puffer jacket myself, and I remember seeing the odd feather poke out of it every once in a while. I thought nothing of it.
But the horrifying truth behind feathers is not as soft and fluffy as the industry would have us believe.
Let’s take a look at the cruel reality behind down and discover the best vegan down alternatives we can use to keep warm instead.
What is down?
“Down” are the soft, quill-less feathers that grow closest to the chests of ducks and geese.
These feathers are sought after by the clothing industry, but also by companies that produce bedding, sleeping bags and technical equipment.
Why down isn’t vegan
Geese form bonds for life, and if a goose gets ill, their mate will stay by their side even if their flock flies to a different destination.
But these sensitive, affectionate animals don’t get to live out their natural behaviours in factory farms where they are raised for human consumption.
There, they live in crowded, cramped conditions and are often subjected to live-plucking. Sadly, this is exactly what it sounds like. Their feathers are torn out of their bodies while they are still alive and fully conscious.
The plucking can leave gaping, bloody wounds in their skin, which workers sew up with a needle and thread.
The extremely painful procedure of live-plucking is meant to be prohibited.
Responsible Down Standard
There is even a standard in place to ensure it doesn’t happen: the Responsible Down Standard. This standard is meant to guarantee that birds are only plucked after they’ve been slaughtered for meat.
But the transparency in the supply chain is very limited with the many middlemen involved. This means that it’s very difficult to trace down all the way back to the animal.
This is how live-plucked down has ended up in products that have a Responsible Down Standard certification. Sadly this proves once again that standards and certifications don’t do much to protect animals.
The birds used for down are also often used for the production of foie gras.
Fois gras is an expensive ‘delicacy’ where birds and geese are force-fed by having a tube inserted in their throats. They are then force-fed corn until their liver swells to up to 10 times its normal size.
So sometimes, these birds’ lives are made up of being live-plucked or force-fed – just about the most horrendous existence imaginable.
Vegan down alternatives
The only way to be certain that your clothing didn’t contribute to any cruelty to animals is to avoid wearing things made from them.
Today, there are plenty of great vegan down alternatives for a down-free wardrobe.
From trees and flowers to recycled materials and even air, human invention truly has the power to harness what nature has to offer. There is no telling what we will be able to do in a few years or decades time.
But using an animal’s body for clothing will never change. It will always be cruel, abusive and damaging. Luckily for both vegans and animals, better options are out there, and more are constantly on the way.
Here are some eco-friendly companies making animal-free, vegan down alternatives to keep you snuggly.
PrimaLoft was originally developed for the US army and helps the body conserve energy and retain warmth with the use of a proprietary microfibre structure.
Today, PrimaLoft is used by over 500 brands, from outdoor clothing to bedding. The company also offers PrimaLoft Bio, a biodegradable, 100% recycled insulation.
Technical apparel company Marmot has created Thermal R, a polyester insulation designed for the cold weather. This highly durable and resistant product has a great warmth-to-weight ratio which means it offers warmth while also reducing the effects of humidity.
Italian brand Save the Duck is all about down-free outerwear. To offer a high-quality alternative to those wishing to stay warm without feathers, they have created Plumtech.
Plumtech is a lightweight, resistant, packable filler that can be washed in the washing machine.
It’s also very breathable, which helps disperse excess heat so that the body’s natural temperature is preserved. Save the Duck also offers a recycled collection with designs that are made from plastic bottles.
Pangaia Apparel company Pangaia took a foray into future fashion with its FLWRDWN puffer jackets.
These jackets are made from a fully biodegradable material made using wildflowers and biopolymer, infused with aerogel to increase performance and durability.
This innovation shows that there are no limits to what we can achieve with the resources that are available in nature – all without using or harming animals.
Down is a thermal insulator because it traps air to keep the wearer warm. Animal-free outerwear label Nudown chose to cut the middleman and went straight to using air by incorporating inflatable chambers into their designs.
Every jacket comes with a pump that the wearer uses to add air into the spaces surrounding the torso. This allows the user to regulate the level of insulation as needed.
Another natural innovation. Flocus is made with fibres from kapok trees, which grow in Asia.
This fully biodegradable and recyclable filler is water-resistant, hypoallergenic, and requires very little processing to be transformed from plant to end product. Its development also helps solve deforestation issues in affected areas.
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