What Is Down?
Down is the soft layer of super fine plumage that sits on the very surface of a duck or goose’s skin. It acts as a natural thermal vest by trapping air and preventing the loss of body heat, as such it has become a very popular filler for jackets, duvets and pillows.
The use of down as a material comes with ethical issues, not in the least if you are vegan and are avoiding all animal products, but because of the cruelty with which down is taken from the bird.
The practice of live-plucking is still happening and if not taken from a live bird, it is often collected from ducks that have already gone through the horrific process of force-feeding for foie gras. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) describe the practice of live plucking as causing considerable distress and pain for the bird and once the feathers have been ripped out they are left with open wounds and paralyzed with fear. Some birds will die, others have their skin sewn back on without the use of anesthetics.
This cruel practice is entirely unnecessary and we wanted to share some alternatives here with you.
What Are The Alternatives?
There are a few alternatives to down, each with it’s own set of pros and cons especially if we take environmental factors into consideration.
Many companies are creating their own auditing procedure to make sure they are getting down from more ethical sources. Patagonia released its 100% Traceable Down Standard to trace the origins of the down from egg to the material, Northface created the Responsible Down Standard because no such policy existed in the industry and this has now been adopted by other businesses such as H&M.
Down has one of the lowest carbon footprints of any filler material – both natural and synthetic. It is also highly durable so you can expect to have it for a long time.
Some brands are starting to use feathers that have been recovered from old blankets and pillows. This extends the lifecycle of the material and helps to reduce the impact on landfill and eliminates the need for new down to be sourced.
Merino wool has a much higher carbon footprint, producing high carbon dioxide emissions, chemical use and again raises ethical concerns if the mulesing of sheep takes place (a painful procedure where the animals rear is chopped to prevent flystrike).
Cotton is a pesticide-heavy crop, demands high levels of water and has a high carbon footprint rating. Organic cotton is a better option but cotton still does not offer the same warmth. Testing has shown that conventional cotton still has a lower carbon rating than polyester.
Synthetic jackets are filled with polyester, which is derived from petrochemicals and as we all know the oil industry requires a huge level of energy. It is also not a renewable resource like its natural counterparts; down, cotton and wool. Recycled polyester, which is made by weaving fibers made from second-hand fabrics, worn out garments and plastic bottles, is starting to be included in jackets by Patagonia.
Cocona is a new highly breathable fiber derived from coconut husk waste, which is reduced to charcoal and combined with polyester and then spun and used as an all-natural insulation. It is said to be warm, quick drying and helps to wick moisture from the body.
What Insulation Should I choose?
It can be confusing which to choose but weigh up what is important to you and also how warm you need your jacket (or duvet for that matter) to be. Here in Australia I have no need for down and prefer to eschew animal products so I keep an eye out for organic cotton, linen, hemp and bamboo alternatives.
Take into consideration budget but also how long you expect the product to last. Quality over quantity is a good motto. If you must buy down look for down that is either recycled or responsibly sourced and intend to keep the product for a long time.
I’d like to see more synthetic materials made from recycled fibers and a lot of technology now enables these materials to be just as warm, water resistant (unlike wool and down) and durable. Here are a few examples of jackets that have been created more consciously:
1. Patagonia Insulated Prairie Dawn Parker
Info: Made from 100% organic cotton canvas and lined with recycled polyester fleece
2. Patagonia Hi-Loft Down Sweater Hoody (Girls)
Info: Insulated with Traceable Down and an exterior shell made from 100% recycled polyester.
3. The North Face Women’s Artic Down Parka
4. Nau Randygoat Down Hoody
Info: Nau make their jackets using a fiberfill that is 30 percent Cocona and 70 percent recycled polyester. Some of their jackets use recycled down.
5. Nau Cocoon Down Trench
What keeps you warm during cold winter days? Tell us in the comments below.
Simone heads up digital marketing at Australian wellness company WelleCo, teaches yoga, eats way too much raw vegan chocolate and explores sustainable & ethical fashion through her editorial The Ethereal Edit. She lives beside the seaside in what is apparently the sunniest city in the world, Perth, Western Australia.