More companies are changing their tone towards animal rights as organizations from the Humane Society to PETA are highlighting what is going in the products you eat and fashion you wear. The Responsible Down Standard (RDS), which has raised awareness about what is happening to geese as their down is harvested for winter apparel and bedding, is one of the more recent initiatives underway. Allied Feather & Down is currently the largest RDS-certified supplier on the market, and this year it has made several industry moves. The latest is its announcement that 10 brands are now sourcing the company’s down, including The North Face and Eddie Bauer.
Why is this important? Previous responsible sourcing efforts were opaque and did little to assuage animal rights activists who questioned the “responsible down” that companies were sourcing for everything from jackets to comforters. The new RDS guidelines, which The North Face was instrumental in drafting, are a more open process. The collection of down is not exactly the most humane process — abuses from force feeding to overcrowding were a constant complaint. With much of the world’s down supply coming from Eastern Asia and China, a global standard that could apply to factory audits anywhere and allow for seamless supply chain traceability were both needed.
The other companies that have committed to sourcing RDS-certified down include Down & Feather Co., Down Linens, Helly Hansen, Mammut, Marmot, Montane, Nau and Outdoor Research. These firms have committed to including more responsibly sourced down in their 2015 product lines. The conversion to all-RDS down, if it ever occurs, will take several years. The North Face, for example, has committed to 30 percent down from RDS-certified sources by 2015 and says it will aim for 100 percent RDS materials by 2017.
According to Allied Feather & Down, it has taken the lead with The North Face, Eddie Bauer and its other partners by offering seminars and educational materials to broaden industry knowledge about what is, and what is not, responsibly sourced down. For now the vast majority of participating companies are within the outdoor apparel industry, but the goal is to include more bedding manufacturers as well as score participation from the hospitality industry.
Whether these new standards will satisfy the apparel industry’s critics remains to be seen. Statistics on how down is collected, whether they are from live plucking or simply collecting the by-products of waterfowl slaughtered for meat production are all over the map. Industry associations claim live-plucking is increasingly rare; a Swedish documentary several years back claimed the rate was high. But for consumers who want their products to be “cruelty-free,” the RDS and its parent organization, Textile Exchange, still have a lot of work ahead of them. Those focused on animal welfare and are still dubious still have an alternative—apparel and bedding made with synthetic materials.
Image credit: Allied Feather & Down
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.