Down has been used for centuries as an insulation for garments and bedding where maximum warmth was required. Even then, down has always been a by-product from animals used for food. And in all this time nothing has been developed that comes close to the warmth or sustainability of down. It also has the unique ability to retain its loft and performance for many, many years. In many ways, down is the antithesis of the plastic fast fashion so prevalent in the marketplace today.
A By-Product Upcycling What Would Otherwise Become Waste
Today, down is collected from farms and collectors following the raising of these birds for sustenance. The value of the down and feathers in this supply chain are estimated at between 2% and 5% of the value of the bird. An overwhelming amount of the value comes from the meat. This is why no birds are simply raised for their down alone. It’s also interesting to note that the changes we have pushed for in building a standard like the Responsible Down Standard don’t only benefit the outdoor and apparel industry but have made marked changes to the global poultry supply chain.
Down is a very small part of the bird, growing as an undercoat on the belly and protected by a layer of feathers. It’s important to note that down is NOT the same as a feather. It has a completely different structure that helps keep the birds insulated under a layer of feathers.
TThe shape and construction of the down cluster is critical when it comes to providing the loft, warmth, compressibility and durability it is known for. And while many synthetic alternatives have tried to mimic the shape of the down cluster, nothing has come close yet. The down cluster is three dimensional and contains thousands of filaments radiating from a central point. Each of these filaments has nodes that interlock with other clusters trapping large pockets of air.
The trapped air is what insulates and is why down has such a high performing warmth to weight ratio. And with no quill, the cluster has the unique ability to compress completely and the resiliency to regain its three dimensional shape.
Fill Power is simply a measurement of loft, measuring the amount of air trapped in cubic inches per 30 grams of down.
Fill Powers are determined by the strength and size of the down clusters. Smaller down clusters will trap less air and thus, have a lower fill power. And the higher fill powers will contain the largest and strongest down clusters.
While Fill Power has traditionally been used as a qualitative number, the way a product is designed and filled will determine overall performance. While different fill powers will have different warmth ratings, one can either create a warmer product by using a higher loft down with the same amount of fill weight—or—use less of the higher fill power down for a product producing the same weight but increased compressibility.
Today, products are designed with a number of different fabrics and varying baffle sizes. For a small baffle, the bigger down cluster of a high fill power down may actually not be able to loft appropriately. In many cases, fill power has nothing to do with performance. A small cluster in a small baffle will provide more consistency, warmth, durability and comfort.
The larger the bird, the larger and stronger the down cluster will tend to be. This is one reason why Goose down is normally referred to as the finest. Geese are generally larger birds than their duck counterparts. However, there are supply chains now where larger ducks can provide extremely high fill power - rivaling some of the finest Goose down.
The fat and oils in the Goose down cluster are also slightly different from the Duck and do provide more resiliency for those products requiring extreme compressibility.
While most down (approximately 80%) comes from China, the birds in Europe tend to be larger species and are raised in colder climes. This allows the birds from those regions to grow slightly stronger down clusters. The age of birds also vary greatly from region to region. In China, the trend is for a much more tender meat, thus the birds are far younger than in Europe.
However, again, with our robust sourcing practices in both the industrial and collector based supply chains, we have been able to source a quality from China almost equal to that from Europe.
Not all down is created equal
Sourcing is only one part of what makes down a quality insulation and with a material like down that has the potential to be among the most environmentally friendly AND best performing insulations available, processing becomes as important as where it came from. The down can come from the best sources, but if it is mishandled during processing, it can lose the warmth, compressibility and durability it is known for.
Down is comprised of Keratin, the same protein as our hair. And as such, similar care has to be taken. Mild detergents need to be used in washing to retain just the right amount of oils to keep it resilient but also make sure it is well cleaned. Over-processing by using harsh chemicals, bleach and/or high heat might serve to process the down quickly, but it will also cause the down - as it would our hair - to become fragile and brittle. That cheaply processed down-filled product might look good on the rack, but over a season of normal use will break down into fiber losing much of its loft and warmth.
While many processors can clean their down quickly, doing so with harsh chemicals and bleach not only harm the down, but the environment as well. ALLIED’s DURAWASH processing is incredibly complex and uses the most environmentally friendly detergent available. It allows all ALLIED down to not only be one of the best insulators on the planet, but also among the most sustainable.
The Down Allergy Myth
Many people claim they are allergic to down. While there is a real known allergy, it is extremely rare. Almost every person that exhibits allergic reactions to down are not reacting to the down itself, but to unclean down. That is why it is critical to care for your down products properly.Down Care Tips