How to Tell If Feathers Are Cruelty-Free?



by Becky // in Clothing, Facts

Products made using animal by-products, like feathers, have varying degrees of standards. Is there a sure-fire way to tell if your new feathers are “sustainably sourced” or “cruelty-free”? And what sort of things should you be looking for as a conscious consumer?

How to Tell If Feathers Are Cruelty-Free?

Cruelty-free feathers have a badge of honor from the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). Alternatively you can purchase feathers collected by molt-harvesting, or buy directly from an ethical farm. Try to avoid buying feathers from large corporations as often these companies do not source their feathers humanely.

Let’s walk through some different definitions and standards used in the industry so that you can shop with more confidence for those winter warmers and party accessories.

What Makes Feathers “Cruelty-Free?”

Folks generally agree that feathers are considered cruelty-free if no harm came to the bird in an effort to acquire the feathers. What most people frown upon is the common practice of live-plucking.

Live plucking is a violent and stressful process that involves a bird being restrained while humans rip their feathers and down from their body, often resulting in bleeding. This process, and anything that resembles it, clearly means that the feathers are not collected in a cruelty-free way.

Things then get a little dicier when you try to lock down the exact definition of “harm.”

Different companies and organizations each have their own approach. Some argue that taking the feathers from a bird that has been raised and killed for slaughter is not considered harmful.

Others say that there is no effective way to ensure that the animals won’t be harmed, and so there’s no such thing as genuine cruelty-free feathers.

The United States Food and Drug Administration does not formally define “cruelty-free.” Much like marketers choosing to use “natural” as a label on their beauty products, there is no legal definition or governing body overseeing these claims or what they mean.

Are There Third-Party Cruelty-Free Certifications?

Some independent organizations have created their own definition of “cruelty-free.” Many of these organizations have gone as far as to curate a list of businesses that meet their standards and align with their expectations.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) claims that in their view,

“It’s impossible to tell whether the down used in the products you buy was obtained from live-plucked birds. The only way to stop live-plucking and ensure that no birds suffer for your clothing or bedding is to choose cruelty-free materials.”

When they say “cruelty-free,” they are implying that the feathers are synthetic and made from plastics or other alternatives.

What About Responsibly Sourced Down/Feathers?

There is a popular initiative floating around called the “Responsible Down Standard,” or RDS for short. According to their website, they aim to protect both the ducks and geese, which are used for down production. They are an independent, voluntary, global initiative promoting the ethical treatment of ducks and geese.

While there is no governing body requiring companies to follow their standards, many companies are applying for certification as a badge of honor on their products, demonstrating their commitment to responsibly managing their supply chain.

So, if you’re set on buying a down duvet – there could be a way to find one that is sustainably sourced. You can find out everything you need to know here: Can Down Products Be Cruelty-Free?

Obtaining certification by the RDS is an involved process that requires oversight at every stage of the supply chain, ensuring that an animal is never live-plucked. RDS-certified companies do use real feathers and down, but only as by-products of a more extensive operation where the animals are as ethically raised as possible for slaughter.

Is “Molt-Harvesting” Considered “Cruelty-Free?”

Many artists and conscious shoppers will agree that “molt-harvesting,” collecting feathers that birds naturally molt several times a year, is an ethical way to source feathers without harming the animal. While this is undoubtedly true, it is unlikely that any significant supply chain or company could sustain this as a business practice.

Companies rely on consistency in their supply chain, both in quality and quantity. Molt-harvesting, while highly ethical, is anything but consistent. Birds naturally molt several times a year, but the quality and quantity of feathers dropped will vary dramatically.

This practice may work for a small local business, but any large corporation or company will find it to be entirely untenable.

The Cruelty of Feathers in Fashion

People do not only source feathers from ducks or geese to make comforters or pillows; they are also an essential aspect of fashion too. Feathers just keep coming back in style, no matter what – from the 1920s flapper dresses to Katy Perry creating enormous angel wings out of feathers at the 2018 Met Gala.

But why hasn’t the use of feathers rung the same exploitative bells that furs or exotic pelts have? It comes down to the fact that most shoppers are still unaware of how cruel the process of live-plucking is.

The Truth Behind Feathers in Fashion

In 2018, Canada Goose was even called out as animal activists found that geese were still being mistreated within their supply chain. Since then, the company has changed its wording on its website to sound more sustainable. PETA, however, remains skeptical that the company has made improvements.

The bottom line is that as ethical as molt-harvesting is – how can the process be streamlined to fulfill rising requests?

“Finding and collecting feathers that have fallen from birds in nature sounds nice – but it isn’t a viable business model to supply designers with the volume of feathers they demand,” says Yvonne Taylor, the director of corporate projects at Peta.

For the most part, try and avoid heavily feathered fashion items. Even if they say they are ethically sourced – it’s hard to trace that back and prove it. The more feathers you see – the less likely they were sourced in a humane manner.

Make Your Own Cruelty-Free Feathered Items

When it comes to things like feather boas or even feather burlesque fans – the best way to ensure they are made humanely is often by making them yourself.

Various environmentally conscious fashionistas are helping make this possible. For example, Rene Creasy owns a farm in Virginia called Cruelty-Free Feathers, where she only sells molted feathers – and nothing else.

So, place your orders and get creative!

Just remember that when it comes to exotic or wild birds – their feathers are illegal for use no matter what. Even if you just want to use some for arts and crafts, please do not purchase any.

What Are Some Cruelty-Free Alternatives?

There was a considerable period of time when synthetic alternatives were considered worse than their “genuine” counterparts, and in practice, those products may have been. However, now there is an abundance of synthetic “animal” products that are in many ways superior to the real deal.

Most people are familiar with the idea of buying faux fur, but what about faux feathers? Here are some names to look out for on the labels that indicate an awesome synthetic “cruelty-free” alternative to genuine feathers.

Synthetic Down is Affordable and Warm

These are polyester fibers woven together to mimic the warmth and feel of genuine down. Synthetic down has an advantage over the real thing, though.

It will retain the warmth and feel even when it gets wet! Genuine down becomes basically useless when wet, so this alternative is not only “cruelty-free” but also a smart choice for unpredictable weather!

Primaloft Mimics Down

Primaloft was first made as a research product in the 1980s for the United States Army. This is another synthetic weave of fibers made to mimic down and is also waterproof. Some perks of Primaloft also include that it is super lightweight compared to genuine down and much easier to pack into tight spaces.

Primaloft comes in a variety of standards, so be sure to check out the individual differences in the different blends right over here. Products made with Primaloft are sure to be excellent at keeping you warm and dry.

Thinsulate Uses Much Finer Fibers

This is a product first made by the company 3M back in the 1970s. What separates this blend of fibers from the polyester synthetic down is that the fibers in Thinsulate are thinner.

3M suggests this makes the product superior when it comes to insulation due to a greater density of thinner fibers when compared to other synthetics. And, once again, it is still fully functional when wet.

Where Can I Buy “Cruelty-Free” Feather Alternatives?

While it may have once been tough to find high-quality feather and down alternative products, now it is easier than ever. Several big box nationwide retailers regularly stock these products. Many companies have even added synthetic and down alternatives as a filter option when searching for an item online.

Finally, try to check out your local outdoor stores too. The associates at these stores should be well trained and knowledgeable to make sure you leave with a product you trust to keep your body warm and keep your conscious clean.

Feathers Are Usually Not Cruelty-Free

Cruelty-free feathers can be hard to come by. Unfortunately, the only cruelty-free way of obtaining feathers is to gather them once the birds have molted, but that’s a very unreliable method, and feathers gathered that way are prohibitively expensive.

If you want to find real down that is cruelty-free, your best bet is the look for the RDS standard approval mark. If you don’t see it, the feathers were very likely plucked from a live bird – even if they claim to be cruelty-free.

If all else fails and you really want feathers – you can also choose to source your own ethically produced ones from farmers in the area.

Thankfully, as we discussed, there are several great alternatives to down that are entirely synthetic and just as functional, like synthetic down, Primaloft, and Thinsulate.

Buying an RDS-approved item or a synthetic down option is the best way to ensure your new jacket is truly cruelty-free!

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