Big news! Patagonia has announced that, from this point forward, all Patagonia down jackets exclusively feature its “Traceable Down” standard — in fact, every down garment in their product line, right now. This expands dramatically upon the limited use of traceable down to this point. No blending with regular goose down, no compromises.
Patagonia is no stranger to tackling difficult environmental issues, especially as they relate to the manufacturing and production of their own garments. More so than anyone else in the outdoor industry, Yvon Chouinard and Co. aren’t afraid to take a hard look at themselves and make difficult decisions to reduce their own environmental footprint.
They’ve almost single-handedly led the industry onward to recycled polyesters and organic cotton — the latter being a product that basically did not exist until Patagonia’s own environmental assessment revealed, surprisingly, that cotton production was worst for the environment. Recently, the company’s focus has centered upon goose down.
The result is “Traceable Down.” Let’s talk about what it means; first, watch this video!
What’s wrong with traditional goose down? This is a natural product, right? Well, there are two major issues, as mentioned in the video above:
Live-plucking. Unlike sheep’s wool, down feathers cannot be humanely harvested from the living goose. Being a byproduct of the food industry, down comes from geese raised for their meat, and the only ethical way to collect that down is after the birds have been slaughtered for that meat. Put bluntly, live-plucking involves pinning a bird down and pulling the down feathers out by the fistful, causing considerable pain and distress. It’s considered so cruel that it’s banned in the USA and most European countries, but is still legal in France & Hungary — countries that contribute significantly to the world’s down feather supply.
Force-feeding. Why on earth would someone force-feed a goose? The answer is foie gras, a French delicacy made from the liver of a goose (or duck) that has been artificially fattened. In most cases, this means force-feeding a caged animal through a funnel for 12-18 days before slaughter, causing the animal to ingest more than it would voluntarily and fattening the liver significantly. Its production is banned in California and several western European countries, though opinion and evidence seem to vary widely regarding how cruel the practice is.
After a German animal welfare organization accused Patagonia of using live-plucked down in 2010 — a charge Patagonia refuted — the company took an even closer look at their supply chain than they had for a 2007 Footprint Chronicles write-up. Upon doing so in 2011, they realized with dismay that, while no evidence of live-plucking was found, they were unwittingly utilizing down from force-fed geese involved in foie gras production. On their “The Cleanest Line” blog, Patagonia mused:
“We didn’t see any evidence of live-plucked down in the parts of the supply chain we visited, and we verified that the slaughterhouses we visited contract with and audit the farms from which they purchase geese to ensure that they do not live-pluck the birds. Despite this, we consider our current tracing program inadequate; the documents we inspected at each stage appeared to be legitimate but must be linked together with more clarity to pass a formal “chain-of-custody” audit by an independent third party. We need to ensure that no live-plucking is done at any point in the supply chain, including on farms where geese are raised before arriving at the slaughterhouse.”
The issue was supply-chain oversight. The specific down feathers in a specific jacket simply could not be followed back to their specific origins, nor certified as cruelty-free. Patagonia needed better control over the chain of custody in that supply chain, an ambitious and extensive undertaking that began in earnest with that 2011 trip to Hungary and led, after a long and complicated journey, to this announcement.
What is perhaps most impressive here are the lengths to which Patagonia has gone to lay out the rules for providing qualifying goose down. Put simply, “We’re often asked how we can ensure every bird is treated humanely. This can only be achieved by examining every single link in the down supply chain.” Here are the first three of 11 named principles in the extensive, 11-page document with which Patagonia lays out its Traceable Down Standard:
- A. Down and feather must not be removed from live animals. Animals must not have been live plucked or molt harvested at any stage in the supply chain.
- B. Down and feather must not be from animals that are force fed during their life for any reason including the production of foie gras.
- C. Principles A and B are zero-tolerance issues and must be met in order to become or continue to be a Patagonia Traceable Down supplier.
The key phrase here is zero tolerance. This isn’t a marketing play; it’s a legitimate move by Patagonia to change the marketplace and supply chain themselves in favor of animal welfare. Kudos.
Maybe that’s not the most impressive part, actually. Maybe the impressive part is that they’re rolling out this traceable down concept across the full range of down jackets and down products in the Patagonia stable. This isn’t a small company; there is a lot of goose down involved in this switch. We’re not talking about some esoteric, exclusive, limited-production item; we’re talking about mega-best-sellers like these:
But… wait. Haven’t we heard about this before? The North Face has been telling us all year that they’d drafted and adopted a “Responsible Down Standard,” then gifted it to the Textile Exchange for distribution, inviting other brands to adopt the standard. Just last week, the North Face announced that major outdoor brands including Marmot and Outdoor Research had pledged to adopt this standard.
Patagonia, however, feels that their standard is tougher for several reasons. First, it’s implemented right now, not in 2017. Second, it doesn’t allow blending; to meet the standard, a product has to use 100% traceable down. The RDS certification can apply to products with a mix of certified and non-certified down. Finally, the Patagonia standard includes the parent farm, where birds at most risk for live-plucking.
To its part, as discussed in the excellent article on The Guardian’s US edition — read here — The North Face admits its standard will continue to be revised, and will get tougher as these revisions occur.
Patagonia, though, is taking the hard line on these issues right now. It’s a bold move from one of the largest producers of down jackets in the outdoor industry, and a great example for the rest of the industry. We’ve always been proud to carry a full selection of Patagonia down jackets, because we believe that selling quality outdoor apparel made by a company who stands behind their products reduces waste and keeps our customers both comfortable and safe in the outdoors. Now, we’re even prouder.