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Where Down Insulation Comes From

Where Down Insulation Comes From

Some top brands divulge the sources.
By Karolyn Castaldo
posted: 12/04/2013
Down Main

In the ever-changing ski industry, it can be hard to stay updated on the latest trends and technologies. While down has been used for hundreds of years as a legit insulation, brands are still jumping into the space—from large companies like Arc’teryx to department store brands.

From fill power to feather treatments, here is the breakdown from some of the most prominent brands using down:

One of the biggest ecological controversies in the industry is down sourcing. In 2011, Patagonia was scrutinized for buying down from Hungary without looking into the farms and slaughterhouses that supplied it. The geese were reportedly being force fed to produce foie gras, a gastronomical delicacy made from goose liver, and the down feathers were a byproduct. In 2012, The North Face faced similar allegations.

Since then, Patagonia hired a traceability expert and asked the International Down and Feather League to help Patagonia change its supply chain. In Spring 2013, the brand’s entire ultralight down collection will move to down that is not from force-fed geese or live plucking.

Similarly, The North Face, which uses both down and treated down, partnered with the Control Union Certifications to ensure ethical treatment of animals in its supply chain, though its down is still sourced from animal byproducts. The brand has been assured that no live plucking goes into its sourcing.

Sierra Designs, which uses 600-800 fill for its DriDown products, neither supports live plucking nor uses feathers from food byproducts, the company says. 

DownTek, which produces 600-850 fill hydrophobic down insulation, gets its feathers from food byproducts, but due to a declining appetite for waterfowl, the company says that resource is drying up. The brand receives down insulation from Asia and Europe to supply insulation for more than 20 outdoor brands that is used in both outerwear and sleeping bags.

Westcomb gets its down from the Hutterites, a religious sect that raises Embden geese in Western Canada. The feathers are collected once a year from mature geese, which the company says results in pure, hypoallergenic down that is steam collected rather than machine plucked.

Westcomb’s down is untreated, yet the brand says it’s naturally hydrophobic. Natural down aligns with Westcomb’s purist designs and brings a unique angle to the highly populated down market.

Down, however, still creates a problem when it gets drenched. Which is why hydrophobic down that’s treated with a DWR-like (Durable Water Repellent) coating has become a recent craze. 

Click here to find out how the various forms of water-resistant down differ.

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