07 – 10 – 20
Why we don't use Down.
In outerwear, it still is the “default” to use bird feathers as isolation material in puffy winter wear. Praised as “natural” and “eco-friendly”, a lot of animal-derived materials have been used in fashion for centuries, even though the way they are sourced is problematic. We’re proud to say that as an outerwear brand, we stay away from materials like down. Read on to find out about our reasons for seeking out alternatives.
Nature is amazing: Down for example is the undercoating of geese, ducks or swans and these light and very fluffy filaments grow in a structure allowing for it to capture air and grant an insulating ability. So they very effectively keep waterfowl save from the elements. It is an amazing material indeed and it’s very understandable humans want the qualities it offers in terms of breathability and warmth for their clothing, no doubt about it.
“It’s more than a gut-feeling. There’s data.”
The problem is how we choose to go about it. There’s a couple real problems with the way industrial complexes make use of animals. Treating living beings as a commodity doesn’t feel right and most likely is the root cause of a lot of the most pressing problems humanity is facing today – from zoonotic diseases, ocean dead zones and deforestation to world hunger and climate change. The way we treat other species has wide-spread consequences for the human species and the ones we supress, and for the planet as well. So much about this feels immoral, but it’s not just a gut-feeling. There’s data.
“Animal materials are considered by-products, but their environmental impact doesn’t disappear.”
Let’s look at the more general problems with using animals in fashion first:
Livestock contributes 14,5% to global GHG emissions, that’s more than the global transportation sector combined (all planes, cars, trains and ships worldwide)!1 In addition to that, livestock and their feed consumes almost one-third of all freshwater in the world today.2
Meanwhile, animal-derived materials used in the fashion industry are often considered “just a byproduct”, but it’s important to understand that these materials can not be divorced from their source, which is industrial animal agriculture. The environmental issues of these products do not disappear, just because we “use” more of the animal.3
Last but definitely not least, animals are living, breathing beings. They love, they fear, they have social lives, they build families and they want to live in freedom, especially free from harm.
“Let’s look at the way birds are treated in the fashion industry.”
Now let’s take a closer look at down and start with the way birds are treated in the fashion industry:
A most appalling practice is called live-plucking, used to produce the highest grade of down. In this procedure, geese and ducks have their feathers as well as the undercoating pulled off their skin while they’re alive and conscious. Typically, the animals are kept alive longer so they can be plucked several times, which allows their down clusters to get larger. Basically, the practice of live-plucking allows for better, more lightweight insulation. So the most luxurious variation of down is also the cruelest one.4
But these are only used in bedding, not in outerwear, right? Well…
- Normally, live-plucked down would indeed be used less in outdoor wear because it compresses too much.4 Unfortunately, there have been various cases where live-plucked feathers have been found in jackets and parkas.5
- Our friends at PETA did a one-month investigation on 11 farms in China, where about 80% of down is “produced” today5 (the footage is horrible). According to their findings, it’s near impossible to make sure farms are not in the live-plucking business due to a lack of transparency in supply chains. PETA spokesperson Ben Williamson said that at the very least, companies using down are “indirectly supporting the cruelty of live-plucking”.4
- Not only have live-plucked feathers been regularly found in jackets before, they also hailed from geese that had also been force-fed, so their ballooning livers could be used as foie gras.5 After all, it’s all part of a huge industrial complex, so it makes sense to maximize profits.
“The poultry sector raises a number of environmental concerns.”
Next up: The impact of these practices on the planet.
A FAO study conducted by the Animal Production and Health Division of the Food and Agriculture Division of the United Nations found that “over the past decades, the poultry sector’s growth and trends towards intensification and concentration have given rise to a number of environmental concerns.”6
Surface Water & Groundwater Impacts:
- Manure runoff or waste spills cause fish kills and reduced biodiversity.
- Runoff also contributes to eutrophication and blooms of toxic algae.
- Excessive manure entering groundwater gives off pathogens, nitrates, arsenic, selenium and zinc into drinking water.
- Meanwhile, antibiotics, pesticides and hormones leaked into waterways are found very likely to have long-term ecosystem effects.
Air & Atmosphere Impacts:
- Ammonia, hydrogen sulfite and other rather bad smelling compounds have been proven to have a real impact on human health. You don’t want to inhale that stuff.
- Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions from the production process, feed production and transport are a contributor to the global warming effects of the animal agricultural sector (14,5% of global GHG emissions in total).1
- Volatilized ammonia contributes to eutrophication, acidification and damage to vegetation and sensitive ecosystems.
Impacts on Soil and indirect Impacts:
- Given off into the soil, nutrients and trace elements from manure is toxic to plants.
- Goodbye rainforest:
- More and more natural habitat is destroyed for the expansion of feedcrop production, killing off whole ecosystems and accelerating biodiversity erosion.
- And last but not least, overexploitation of non-renewable resources takes a toll on the environment we can not afford.
“So are man-made fibers the answer then?”
Are they? Well, yes and no. There’s no perfect answer, at least not yet. For now, we will have to decide between materials made by an industry that treats living beings like commodities and has a vast impact on the environment on the one hand, and then man-made fibers on the other. And even though both ethically and environmentally speaking, those are considerably less bad, they still come with their very own set of problems: They are made from oil which again means methane emissions, wildlife disruption, and potential oil spills.7 They are not biodegradable and can only be recycled when kept pure (which, btw, we take care of when it comes to our filling material) and if you haven’t heard about micro plastic, there’s a whole other rabbit hole for you to go down.
So yes, synthetics are a real problem and there’s no denying that. But while everybody here at the Embassy agrees that petrol-based, man-made materials are not the final answer in what is an ongoing quest for the perfect fibers to protect us naked humans from the elements, data (and our intrinsic moral compass) clearly lead us away from using animals like objects and looking at their hair and skin as material.
Luckily, we live in a time where textile innovation is in full bloom. From mushroom leather to lab-grown fur, loads and loads of new ideas and materials are in the works as I write this and we can’t wait to do our part in pushing the envelope of what’s possible in fashion. We’re here to create the future of outerwear, good not only for the people wearing it, but with a positive ipact for garment workers, the environment and the animal kingdom instead.
We’d love it if you would accompany us on our journey.
Sending love from
PS: A huge thank you to Joshua Katcher, who has been researching facts and figures about animals in the fashion industry for years and concluded his finding in his book “Fashion Animals”. We highly suggest checking out the book and Joshua’s work.
1 – http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/
2 – http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/02/18/4-billion-people-face-water-scarcity
3 – https://www.cowspiracy.com/facts
4 – https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-foul-truth-behind-the-down-in-pillows-and-comforters/
6 – http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/home/events/bangkok2007/docs/part2/2_2.pdf
7 – https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/fabrics-environment-fast-fashion-eco-friendly-pollution-waste-polyester-cotton-fur-recycle-a8963921.html