What is down? Where does it come from? Down is the soft layer of feathers closest to birds’ skin that helps insulate them from the cold. But how do these feathers make it from birds’ bodies into jackets and other products? Is buying down products ethical? Read on for the answers to these questions and more.
In nature, ducks and geese are meticulously clean and love to preen their feathers to stay healthy—free of dust, dirt, and parasites—and to keep themselves looking nice for potential life mates. But in the down industry, they’re kept in filthy, feces-filled enclosures with no way to stay clean or choose a mate. Ducks and geese typically have miles of territory to explore, but those used for their feathers are confined to cramped quarters with hundreds of others, which can lead to injuries that often go without veterinary care.
Did you know that ducks and geese mourn lost loved ones? On farms and in slaughterhouses, workers stab, behead, electrify, and kill birds’ friends and family members right in front of them. Once the birds are presumed dead, they’re dumped into scalding-hot water so that their feathers can be removed and sold to companies around the world.
Thankfully, many companies are using high-tech vegan materials that are better for birds and the environment.
Here are some great vegan down alternatives that’ll keep you cozy without hurting animals:
Stay warm and save lives by choosing the ultimate animal-free fleece. Polartec created modern synthetic fleece in 1981 and has since raised the bar by creating the world’s first fully recyclable and biodegradable fleece. The company’s Eco-Engineering initiative brings together fabric industry leaders Unifi and Intrinsic Advanced Materials to design a new generation of biodegradable polyester and nylon. Polartec is truly where innovative science and high-performing fabric meet.
PrimaLoft offers high-performance insulation and fabrics that are 100% vegan. Originally developed for the U.S. Army, it uses a proprietary microfiber structure to help retain warmth so that the body can conserve energy. Fibers just a fraction of the diameter of a human hair form a tight collection of air pockets that trap body heat and keep the cold out. PrimaLoft is used in the outdoors market as well as for home furnishings and bedding by over 500 brands. The company also introduced PrimaLoft Bio insulation made from 100% recycled, biodegradable fibers.
Black Diamond, Spyder, and adidas are among the retailers that offer PrimaLoft.
Plumtech, an exclusive Save The Duck padding, is a high-quality synthetic down made from recycled polyester using innovation that’s completely animal-free. It provides outdoor enthusiasts with outerwear that allows easy movement and is durable, light, packable, and machine-washable. The material has a high level of breathability, which disperses the excess heat generated during everyday workouts, and it can trap an extremely large amount of air, preserving the body’s natural temperature.
Marmot, one of the world’s most highly respected technical apparel and equipment companies, created a unique polyester insulation called Thermal R, engineered to meet various cold-weather needs. This insulation combines multichannel and hollow fibers to provide maximum warmth while reducing the adverse effects of perspiration, condensation, and humidity. Thermal R is resilient, has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, and is highly durable. According to reports, Marmot’s featherless line now accounts for 60% of the brand’s sales.
The PANGAIA collective’s FLWRDWN is a fluffy, one-of-a-kind vegan down made from wild flowers. With every purchase of a PANGAIA product, a donation is made to help combat global plastic pollution.
Down and wool trap air to keep animals warm, acting as thermal insulators. That’s why Nudown made the business-savvy decision to skip stealing animals’ down and wool and go straight to using air. It offers a line of jackets and vests with built-in inflatable chambers. You simply squeeze an in-pocket pump that forces air into the chambers surrounding your torso, and you can adjust the level of insulation whenever you need to.
Machine-washable 3M Thinsulate is a unique insulation that works by trapping air molecules between you and the outside, providing a breathable and moisture-resistant experience. The microfibers are far finer than down feathers, so they can trap more air in less space, which makes for better insulation than down. There are a plethora of Thinsulate products designed for virtually all weather conditions.
This technology can be found at Spyder, Rossignol, and Carhartt.
Climashield is composed of thousands of continuous strands of synthetic fibers in a distinctive interlocking solution. It maintains thermal efficiency in wet and humid conditions, is more cost-effective than down, and retains warmth over time. Its strands require minimal to no quilting, which allows products containing it to be less expensive. Its custom-fit insulation is used in sleeping bags, bedding, outerwear, gloves, and footwear sold around the world.
This technology can be found at Arc’teryx and Eddie Bauer.
The company 37.5 (formerly known as Cocona) created a great down-free material that uses active carbon derived from coconut shells that are blended with recycled polyester. This unique blend increases the surface area of the insulation—allowing it to dry fast, resist odors, absorb heat, and provide a high warmth-to-weight ratio.
This technology can be found at Homeschool Outerwear.
Since the early 1900s, DuPont has been revolutionizing the world of fibers and polymers with fabrics and materials like Sorona. This bio-based fiber insulator is lightweight, breathable, warm, quick-drying, and resilient. Thirty-seven percent of its polymer is made using annually renewable plant-based ingredients. Its revolutionary Bio-PDO compound turns a formerly chemical process into an eco-efficient biological one, using less energy and producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Grado Zero Espace
Grado Zero Espace is an Italian company that creates many vegan textiles, including VeganTech Insulation—a natural insulation composed of flowers, biopolymers, and aerogel. It is oil- and animal-free and is known for maintaining its breathability. It’s also inexpensive and efficient. This technology offers protection against freezing temperatures, heat, and fire, while at the same time providing a high level of comfort.
Thermolite technology combines lightweight warmth and functional insulation with lasting durability. Thermolite is used in a variety of products, including outdoor apparel and sports gear, and it’s engineered to keep you warm while helping to optimize your performance.
Polarguard is a continuous-filament, polyester fiber that’s most commonly used in sleeping bags and outerwear. It is hypoallergenic and mildew-resistant and retains most of its loft and insulating properties when wet. Polarguard 3D is a softer fiber that’s similar to down—without the cruelty to animals.
Thermore, a producer of vegan thermal insulation for apparel and sleeping products, has been on the leading edge of thermal insulation technology and continues to be a pioneer in the development of advanced fibers that help maintain natural warmth. The company produces several thermal insulators, including Thermore Freedom, which consists of countless micro-gaps that move and adapt to the body with every movement.
This technology can be found at Brooks Brothers, Hugo Boss, and Aspesi.
Ingeo is a unique material made completely from plants. It’s usable for a broad assortment of creative innovations, like plastics for food and beverage containers and consumer electronics, and it’s a great down-free option for sleepwear and other apparel. Ingeo insulation is breathable, quick-drying, UV light–resistant, and hypoallergenic, and it boasts outstanding moisture management.
The bedding industry is now embracing pure bamboo for insulation in quilts, comforters, and pillows. This eco-friendly material is naturally antibacterial, odor-resistant, chemical-free, dust mite–resistant, thermo-regulating, hypoallergenic, and extremely breathable.
This technology can be found at Cozy Earth and My Organic Sleep.
microCloud offers a wide variety of vegan bedding, including mattresses, quilts, and pillows. This down-like material is created with high-tech polyester fibers that provide comfort and superior support of the head, neck, and shoulders. It’s hypoallergenic, machine-washable, and tumble-dryable. microCloud achieves an affordable price point without harming birds, and the filling offers greater health benefits than down does.
Flocus is a revolutionary textile brand producing insulation made with fibers harvested from kapok pods found on tropical ceiba trees. This insulation is 100% sustainable without abandoning functionality. Flocus is insulating, lightweight, water-resistant, and fully biodegradable.
What’s Wrong With Using Down?
Some companies try to “humane-wash” their use of down by touting the bogus Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certification or using labels like “ethically sourced” or “non live-plucked,” but these mean nothing to the birds who suffer and die in the down industry. The RDS claims “to ensure that down and feathers do not come from supply chains where animals have been subjected to any unnecessary harm.” However, as documented in multiple PETA entity investigations, these “standards” are rarely enforced.
Next time you shop for a winter jacket or some new bedding, remember: There’s no such thing as “ethical” or “responsible” down. If it was taken from a bird, someone suffered. The best way to end the exploitation of these sensitive individuals is to refuse to buy items containing down and instead choose from the countless innovative down-free materials above.
Send a powerful message to the cruel industry by pledging to be down-free:
Inspired to spread the word about down? Order some leaflets today.