What was – and can still be – a notoriously opaque supply chain ruled by a network of brokers, ALLIED has opened up access directly to the farms for an unmatched level of transparency for all those buying down products from any one of our partners.
As a by-product of the food industry, the value of the down only accounts for about 2-8% of the total value of the bird. This makes it very difficult for an industry of relatively low value to have any access or visibility making it difficult to fully understand where your down came from.
ALLIED has changed that over the last several decades by establishing strong relationships and working closely with farmers and collectors in order to source direct so we could ensure leading animal welfare practices as well as have complete traceability for every cluster of down that passes through our doors.
More than 30 years ago, ALLIED was founded as an insulation company working directly with farms and slaughterhouse groups. As the outdoor industry was growing rapidly through the early 1980s, the need for a high-quality down fill — different than what was available at the time — became apparent.
By working directly with farms around the world, ALLIED was able to control quality and provide these growing brands complete traceability and transparency long before it was considered an important issue.
In 2012, ALLIED used this intimate knowledge throughout a supply chain many thought impossible to trace, and started work with The North Face to build what would become the Responsible Down Standard.
Gifted to the Textile Exchange so that it could be utilized by the industry as a whole, this standard has now become one of the largest and most ubiquitous animal welfare standards in the textile and outdoor industries.
ALLIED continues to change the industry by uncovering new supply chains, offering unique material and bringing traceability and education directly to the consumer for the first time.
This supply chain is one that has been around for hundreds of years and still remains very similar to the way duck and geese were raised for generations.
There are generally three different modules of the supply chain with each providing their own benefits and complexities – industrial, collector and parent farms.
We estimate that the collector and industrial supply chains are fairly evenly split with the parent farms only representing 3-8% of the total farms.
In North America, most people have a vision of what a large industrial poultry farm looks like – and it’s not inviting. Unlike these large chicken farms that often represent a worst case scenario, the farms in the duck and goose supply chain are generally the opposite of that, with large bodies of water and birds roaming free. Many times, larger farms are even on industrial orchards providing natural shade and with the birds supplying fertilization for a surprising circularity.
Traceability within the industrial supply chain is far easier than the collector-based module, but this is where one has to be careful with where their down came from. In many parts of Europe, force feeding is the norm. You’ll probably never see French duck down from ALLIED for this reason.
The Parent Farms
Within the industrial supply chain are farms where mother geese and duck are raised to lay eggs for trade. These parent farms represent approximately 3-8% of the global supply chain. At the end of their cycle after 4-6 years, they become part of the food supply chain.
This supply chain is maze of collectors that collect material from micro farms sometimes as small as a single household raising birds to feed their family. The collectors go from village to village within their region collecting all the waste products left out to be picked up – the down and feather form the birds being one. The village collectors will then usually aggregate material with a larger village collector who then takes to a regional collector where material is further aggregated… on so on, until it is finally procured by ALLIED.
These small farms and households raising down to simply feed their families has almost no risk to animal welfare (if the birds are harmed, they don’t eat), but can be incredibly hard to trace.
We have been able to add traceability in this supply chain by opening offices in these rural parts of the supply chain that teach the collector communities how to read and write so the proper paperwork can always accompany the collection of the material.
The collector based supply chain is important to us as it not only has almost zero risk of animal welfare issues, but provides some of the highest quality of material as the birds are much older providing a large and strong down cluster.
Most birds in the industrial farms go to processing for food at between 6-8 weeks for Duck in China and 12-16 for Goose (both are slightly older in Europe). In the vast majority of the supply chain, there is no possibility for live plucking since the birds are so young at time of processing. Live plucking only has the possibility to happen on parent farms where the birds are allowed to live for several years. But even at that, there has only ever been evidence of this happening at White Goose Farms. So considering the global supply chain, it is 1/4 of a small percent of the total farms that is even at risk. It has been estimated that only 1-2% of the down supply chain is at risk for this practice. And the material collected will alway test at 800 fill power or above. Because this is the higher value down, anything that is not white goose down above 800 fill power isn’t even at risk for this practice.
The second issue – and perhaps more controversial depending on where you live – is the procurement of down coming from birds force fed for the Foie Gras industry. This is where duck and geese just prior to processing will be force fed a diet of corn to enlarge their livers for Foie Gras. Like almost everything, this stems from a natural process whereby the birds natural gorge themselves prior to migration. However, the way this is handled on an industrial level is the reason we will never purchase down from birds raised in farms and processed for Foie Gras.
Aside from those two unique issues we deal with, we continue to work with farms to constantly improve the lives of the birds and constantly reconsidering what “best practices” mean to animal welfare organizations.
But in 2010, with a large attack on the industry, it became evident that more robust standards would be needed. That’s when we set out with The North Face, Control Union and animal welfare groups to work towards a robust industry-standard certification. In 2014, this standard, known as the Responsible Down Standard was gifted to Textile Exchange and the industry at large. We continued to work with partner brands and the industry to help build and make other standards more robust and develop unique brand-level sourcing initiatives.
The challenge was opening up a supply chain that has operated the same way for generations to a new way of thinking and at times, working. Looking at all five of Brambell’s Five Freedoms of animal welfare, there were times that ALLIED had to step in and invest to help make some farms and facilities better and more compliant.
Even in a collector based supply chain – which many thought to be impossible to track material (a necessary component of any welfare certification) – we opened remote offices to teach the collector community how to read and write so they could provide the appropriate paperwork which gives us the level of traceability needed.
And since 2016, ALLIED’s entire global supply chain has been certified by at least one of the large industry standards.
When work started on the certifications, there were times of frustration being kicked off of farms because we weren’t there buying their meat. But now we can not only visit regularly, but do so with film crews. The farmers are proud at the work they are doing and now make more money on their meat. One farmer we recently visited on a goose farm in China even pulled out his LED covered boom box to show us how he plays music to keep his birds happy. On sunny days, he said, they prefer K-pop but sometimes on overcast days they seem to prefer a Chinese version of easy listening jazz.
For us, the standards are simply an insurance policy to now communicate some of the intricacies of the material to the end user. For far too long, the synthetic industry and animal welfare activists have been able to attack down and spread misinformation without the customer having any sort of outlet to learn more about the performance and sustainability of responsibly sourced material.
That’s why, in 2015, alongside the release of the first RDS certified products, ALLIED launched TrackMyDown.com.
The site allows the consumer to use the lot number on the jacket to learn more about all the important elements of the down inside their jacket – from source to cleanliness to complete content analysis – educating the consumer on what fill power is, why cleanliness and processing are so important to performance, and how these might reflect on the quality of the product in front of them.
And now in 2020, ALLIED is launching a unique retail down traceability tool – the Optix iMirror powered by Nobal Technologies.
The mirror is able to read the down inside a garment with an integrated reader that interacts with a proprietary treatment on the down. This allows the user to interact with the down inside the jacket to learn more about the quality of the down, see where and how it was sourced and even learn of potential other products that might be a better fit and order directly from the mirror itself.