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If you knew about the origins of the soft down inside your favorite winter jacket or comforter, you might think twice about putting either anywhere near your body. Last year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals received undercover video footage that showed exactly how those feathers were obtained. Live factory-raised birds are pinned down while workers yank fistfuls of feathers from their bodies, often plucking them so violently that they rip open the animals’ skin.
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“We have found that the average consumer is unaware that down comes from birds who often have been live-plucked or force-fed. However, the compelling footage has helped people realize that buying down contributes to extreme cruelty, and the same is true of buying leather, exotic-animal skins,fur, and wool,” Anne Kellogg, PETA’s corporate liaison, tells Ecouterre.
Fur activists have even begun to engage the same audience from a different angle-that being a vegan means being pro-environment, too.
The video itself is convincing enough not to support down, but PETA also enlisted vegan actress/animal-rights activist Alicia Silverstone, to narrate it, bringing the issue to an even larger audience.
Fur activists have even begun to engage the same audience from a different angle-that being a vegan means being pro-environment, as well. In 2012, the Washington Post referenced studies from a 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report that ranked raising animals for food as “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
Climate researchers Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang have estimated that livestock and their methane-rich byproducts account for even more greenhouse gas emissions than originally estimated—a whopping 51 percent.
The problem is often seen best in areas that rely heavily on animal agriculture, such as New Zealand, where a lot of wool is produced. According to the BBC, “In New Zealand, livestock account for 90 percent of the nation’s methane emissions, and about 43 percent of its greenhouse gases from human activities. In short, without coming up with a solution, it would struggle to meet its Kyoto Protocol targets.”
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Thanks to a heightened awareness of bird cruelty combined with climate change, down alternatives, or synthetic “down” is gaining momentum in the home and fashion markets. Celebrity-driven lifestyle labels, such as Martha Stewart for Macy’s, Cindy Crawford for JC Penney, Daisy Fuentes for Kohls, and Jenny McCarthy for Target, have introduced synthetic down in bedding collections, while outerwear brands like Patagonia and The North Face now offer synthetic options.
Synthetic options are on the rise, including eco-friendly alternatives made of recycled or recyclable materials.
PETA credits it to a growing interest in hypoallergenic products and consumers’ growing concern over the cruelty to animals inherent in the feather industry.
“Kapok and Ingeo are good options, but many synthetics have advantages, as well, including Thinsulate and PrimaLoft, which was originally developed for the U.S. Army as a water-resistant down alternative,” says Kellog. “Today, PrimaLoft is the premier supplier of insulation to the Army, Marines, and Special Forces providing them with a tactical advantage under extreme wet and cold conditions.”
Donna Oakes, owner of Cow Jones Industrials, an online vegan boutique, says that options for feather and fur alternatives are growing. “In the years since I’ve had my business, I would say that vegan fashion has made enormous strides in not only quality of the product, but also that the issues of environmental concerns and fair labor practices have also become concerns that are front and center for many of the vegan designers,” she says.
She cites, as an example, vegan shoe company Olsenhaus, which uses a faux suede microfiber made from the waste generated from the manufacturing of TV monitors. Vaute Couture, a cruelty-free label best known for its warm winter jackets, crafts its wares from recycled and recyclable Polartec and Teijin technical fabrics. Pittsburgh designer Kelly Lane even uses a faux fur derived from hemp, while other companies, like The Hemptress opt to replicate the material’s sumptuous hand with recycled PET from post-consumer plastic bottles.
“I think that for the most part, people who design with ethics in mind will embrace a number of concerns,” says Oakes. “For people, planet and of course our furry friends.”