Why Feather Fashions Are Cruel (Down With Down!)

It’s puzzling why those who would never wear fur, will wear feathers! But once you read this article, we hope you’ll understand why feather fashions are cruel. Even more cruel than fur, in fact!

By Chere Di Boscio

Ah, a warm duvet, a crackling fire, a cup of cocoa. It’s all we need to make winter bearable. For most of my adult life, I’ve snuggled under the same duvet. I bought it in Canada, and was delighted at how light and fluffy it was, leaving me cool enough to sleep in fall and spring, but very toasty indeed in winter, too.

Since it was full of feathers, I thought it was an ethical purchase. My assumption: the duvet was filled with the feathers of all the chickens that people around the world had eaten. Therefore, it was biodegradable and ethical.

I was so wrong. Here’s why feather fashions are cruel.

why feather fashions are cruel

What Is Down, Exactly?

‘Down’ is actually the soft undercoating of waterfowl (geese, ducks or swans). It consists of light, fluffy filaments growing from a central quill point, creating the perfect structure to trap air, giving down an insulating quality. Down is used to stuff not only duvets, but cushions, pillows, jackets, slippers and more.

It takes the down of around 75 birds to make just one duvet. Most of the feathers we use for home and fashion items come from Chinese ducks. And those feathers are probably the source of more misery for animals than wool, or even fur.

The main reason feather fashions are cruel beyond imagination are due to how the birds are plucked.

Why Feather Fashions Are Cruel

Plucking methods really count when it comes to sourcing down. Basically, there are technically three methods used to remove down and body feathers. These are: 1. Post mortem, 2. Gathering, and 3. Live plucking.

Post mortem means the feathers are removed after the birds are killed, and this is the most common method.

But sometimes, before the bird is killed, it may undergo live plucking – which is horrendous. It’s exactly what it sounds like. A goose or duck is held down by their neck or wings as the “targeted feathers” are torn from their skin. When the skin rips during this process, it’s sewn up with a straight needle (no analgesic or sterilisation used) and the bird is left to recover before the next torturous feather ‘harvest’.

Most common in China, this process is repeated every 6-7 weeks before the bird’s eventual slaughter (or death from the trauma of the plucking process itself). Keep this in mind when you hear the feathers you might be wearing come from the food industry. Sure, that may be true. But the animal was tortured before being slaughtered.

Profits Before Animal Welfare

The final method of collecting down is called ‘gathering’. This means brushing loose feathers from live geese or ducks, kind of like using hairs we would lose from brushing our hair naturally.

While the term “gathering” sounds nicer, feather fashions are cruel even if they use this method only.

That’s because in most operations, hundreds of birds have their feathers gathered at one time. Even if all of the birds are at the same stage of moulting (which is unlikely), feathers mature at different times on different parts of the body.

What this means is that some feathers are likely to be “live plucked” by accident during this process as well. The rather brutal methods of catching, carrying and restraining birds is also the same no matter whether the feathers are gathered or live plucked.

During the gathering process, bones may be broken or dislocated and, more uncommonly, some birds suffocate. There’s also potential for torn skin, hanging wings and death during this “live plucking.”

why feather fashions are cruel

Industry Lies

Down and feather industry advocates disagree that feather fashions are cruel. They claim most down and other feathers are removed after the bird is killed, and are an inevitable by-product of the meat industry. They also argue that feathers are completely natural, biodegradable, and breathable, keeping the wearer warm in winter with little weight. And all of that is true.

But in 2009, a Swedish TV documentary went undercover in China and discovered that a whopping 50-80 percent of the down from that market was coming from birds being live plucked. Personally, I doubted they could have gone to 80% of global suppliers to verify this, and many major suppliers such as the China Feather and Down Industrial Association denied these claims. However, Swedish furniture company IKEA independently verified the documentary’s claims, and consequently cancelled all orders from China.

The truth is that it’s highly likely that birds are live plucked whilst living, and are plucked post mortem as well. That’s because it makes financial sense; suppliers can gather more feathers over more time this way.

why feather fashions are cruel

More Ethical Down

As horrifying as that information is, there is some good news, too. Namely, this: some companies insist on using ethical down, and there are several certifications you can watch out for.

These are, for example:

According to a representative at ethical fashion brand Santicler, each of these certifications ensures a more traceable down standard, following production from farm to factory. They also check that animals in the production of down are treated humanely.

Loads of big name brands, from ASOS and Everlane to Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga, have signed up with one of the above certifications. Click on the links above to learn more.

So, What Else Can We Do?

We all want to stay warm in winter: ducks and geese included! While some people may think that using our fellow animals’ evolutionary adaptations such as warm fur and feathers for our own benefit is the most natural way to stay cozy, I personally disagree. We have gained the intellect and ability to source, grow and create alternatives that are more ethical, eco friendly, and cruelty free.

Hemp, coconut, pineapple or palm fibres, bamboo and other materials are kind to the planet – and to animals. Whilst these may not be as readily available as down, the more demand we create, the more available they will become, right?

In the meantime, we can check the certifications mentioned above, and shop for toasty clothing and home wear we know isn’t hurting animals or the Earth. Keep reading for few of our best suggestions!

Great Ethical Down Coat Brands

Patagonia

This popular ethical coat brand helps you stay toasty sans feathers with high-tech, eco-friendly Thermogreen, which keeps you warm even when wet. The coat’s shell is a breathable, water-resistant polyester ripstop fabric, and there are multiple pockets to keep your winter stuff like hats, gloves and tissues, safe.

Napapijri

This year, outerwear brand Napapijri went 100% down and fur free as part of their ‘Make It Better’ philosophy, a mindset which embraces product innovation to enable solutions that improve consumers lives, while making a meaningful contribution to the world. Instead of animal products, the brand now uses  Thermo-fibre technology, an innovative micro- sphere polyester that guarantees the same thermal insulation properties as pure duck down, without sacrificing quality.

Gudrun Sjoden

If you think feather fashions are cruel, you should be advised that this coat does have down. However, it’s recycled from old French down comforters. The outer shell is also constructed from recycled material; in this case, polyester that has been ‘harvested’ from PET bottles and old clothing.

The Best Vegan Duvets And Pillows

Devon Duvets

With an outer casing containing TENCEL Lyocell and a filling made from plant based fibres (mainly bamboo), these duvets are super soft on your skin, and gentle on the planet, too! They come in all kinds of thicknesses to ensure you’re warm, whatever the season.

vegan duvet

The Fine Bedding Company

Your pillow is super important for getting a good night’s sleep. And the Fine Bedding Company makes a few that you’re bound to love! If you’re ok with ethically sourced down, they’ve got some fluffy pillows that you can easily sink into. For the vegans out there, there’s another great, eco-friendly alternative: pillows stuffed with recycled polyester. What’s not to love?

Do you agree feather fashions are cruel? Let us know in the comments, below!

Chere Di Boscio
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