by Keith Wilson | March 17, 2017
If you’re buying a duvet or jacket, a question you may want to consider would be would you rather kill a bird for the down, or pollute waters and kill fish by the waste of synthetic fibers? This is the complex issue that is facing many home fashions and outdoor name brands and it is surprising the two issues haven’t collided already.
Sustainability is a key issue for many industries and the textile industry is no exception.
On one hand, animal protection groups like Peta in the US and Four Paws in Europe are disgusted at industrial farming practices that provide down and feather to big name apparel and home fashion name brands and attack suppliers and name brands for using down and feather materials. The concern originates from live plucking geese and ducks for their down and force feeding them for foie gras.
On the other hand, the perception that synthetic materials like polyester are clean and safe is not fully truthful. While synthetics do not raise animals for harvest, there are other problems in the synthetic fiber supply chain. Beginning with drilling oil, throughout the processing and chemical by-product process and onto the recycling of a product; synthetics have a very obvious footprint that is hard to ignore.
So, what material is going to fill my duvet or jacket?
Although not bulletproof, traceability audits seem to be the preferred option of social responsibility, that shields name brands from being the target of boycotts and blacklisted by animal rights groups. Although the audits are a step forward, animal lovers carry on the debate that the animals are still being slaughtered. The problem is posed that even if the down and feather production came to a halt, meat production would not and the down material would be wasted and sent to landfills.
The debate for natural fibers generally praises the fiber for outstanding weight to thermal performance and ease of recycling. Some manufacturers point to the longevity of down and feathers heirloom products, on other cases products are collected from second-hand stores, rewashed and reused in new products. Other down purists tout the idea that down and feather material makes great feather meal (fertilizer) for your garden.
Opposing views toward down and feathers point to the slaughterhouse, industrial farming practices, live plucking, forced feeding, poor transportation methods and irresponsible animal husbandry.
No fiber or source has a perfect track record. One alternative to down is synthetic fibers like polyester. Synthetic fibers however, have separate issues; although there are no animals being raised for synthetic materials the oil industry from which synthetics are derived has far from a clean record for environmental social responsibility.
In addition, the recycling of synthetic fibers is a long process. Recent reports from Patagonia identify microfiber in the ocean originating from the breakdown of synthetic materials during washing. Through washing synthetics, microfiber ends up in the waterways and the synthetic fibers turn into miniature bacteria sponges in the ocean that take many years to decompose. These mini bacteria sponges end up in fish, waterfowl and the whole ocean ecosystem and have devastating effects.
Many companies have failed to see the pros and cons of natural or synthetic and have folded to the pressure of social groups and no longer provide certain materials in their collections. Other retailers provide a balance of materials and allow the consumer to make the educated decision.
So the final question is do you support animal protection or the environment? Sustainability has been a vague word in the past referencing many different aspects such as water consumption, social responsibility, chemical management, carbon footprint and many other aspects. The industry is currently pushing towards using the Higg Index and hopefully this comprehensive evaluation system will help consumers make better choices in a systematic, industry approved method. Until then, good luck considering all the options next time you make a purchase.
See the original article on LinkedIn here.