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Leading Brands H&M, The North Face Adopt Responsible Down Standard

Textile Exchange (TE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainability in the apparel and textile industry, announced Tuesday that H&M, Eddie Bauer, The North Face, Mammut, Helly Hansen, Outdoor Research, Downlinens, Downlinens and Down & Feather Co., along with other leading clothing, footwear and outdoor brands have adopted the use of its Responsible Down Standard (RDS), which guarantees that the down used in various products comes from geese or ducks that are treated humanely.

The RDS, officially launched in January 2014, was made to encourage those in the textile and apparel industry to source down humanely. This entails preventing certain practices like force-feeding and live-plucking. It also sets strict approvals on issues with food and water quality, housing, stock density and outdoor access, animal health, hygiene and pest and predator control, among others.

Brands have committed to introducing certified down into their products beginning Fall 2015. The North Face has also committed to using 100 percent certified and responsibly sourced down in all of its product lines by 2016-2017. Some home and hospitality brands have also showed interest in adopting the standard.

TE said it hopes leading outdoor brand Patagonia will also adopt the RDS, although the company already has its own Traceable Down Standard, which works to prevent the animals from harm and provide content claims assurance to its customers. Patagonia is, however, part of the International Working Group of the RDS and according to TE, the retailer is supporting the organization to make its standard as strong as possible.

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The RDS standard helps brands relay the most accurate information about its product’s fiber directly to consumers. It was also designed with the goal of enabling better traceability and reshaping the down industry as a whole, not just one brand’s supply chain.

The North Face, together with Control Union, a certification group and Textile Exchange, a non-profit organization committed to the responsible expansion of the textile industry, developed the RDS. In doing do, the companies also worked closely with leading suppliers, Allied Feather & Down and Downlite to certify every step of the down supply chain.

President of Allied Feather & Down Daniel Uretsky, said, “Allied has been fully committed to supporting Textile Exchange throughout the development of this comprehensive standard, from the conceptual stages, to sharing our procuring and sourcing practices, to having our global supply chain and processing facilities audited and certified. We will remain committed to the RDS as a leading supplier of RDS certified down and educator on responsible sourcing. We are proud to see the standard come to fruition and of the enthusiasm of our partners and industry stakeholders who are the earliest adopters. We encourage anyone who uses down to consider the importance of adopting RDS certified down.”

Upon its completion, the standard was gifted to TE from The North Face in hopes that the organization would promote positive animal welfare conditions and traceability in the down supply chain at a larger scale.

TE is not only governing the standard, but evolving it through a stakeholder feedback process which involves input from several brands and non-governmental organizations like Adidas, Outdoor European Group, Outdoor Industry Association and FOUR PAWS, an animal rights organization.

“I’m proud of the effort that went into the development of the RDS,” Gillespie said. “We did extensive research, including visiting the sourcing regions in remote areas of Europe and Asia to fully understand the conditions we had to address, and worked with a diverse set of stakeholders that gave us a broad perspective of the issues. As more brands adopt the RDS, it will bring improved animal welfare conditions and better traceability in the down supply chain at a much larger scale than any one organization or one supply chain could accomplish alone,” she added.

The down supply is categorized into two different models, an industrialized farm model and a collector-based model.  Forty-nine percent of down is collector based, 1 percent is live harvested, 15 percent is sourced from farms that produce Foie Gras and 35 percent is collected from industrial farms. The industrialized farms are large farms that manage birds to produce food or Foie Gras, made from the liver of a duck or goose. This model is more traceable as it is more industrialized. Animal welfare laws also restrict the farms, and the down is collected after the birds are killed.

The other side of the model is collector-based, made up of small local farms, some located in Eastern Europe and China, which according to TE are extremely hard to trace. After the birds are killed, down collectors gather the down and then work with larger collectors, and those larger collectors then work with collectors that are larger still.

Many of the farmers managing goose and duck down farms are unaware of the standard’s guidelines due to its complexity. To solve this issue Allied has opened offices in rural parts of Eastern Europe and China to help train the farmers and make sure they are following the restrictions completely.

TE has participated in unannounced visits to the farms to ensure workers continuously follow the standard, however, this has been an issue in the past as auditors travel far to the farms and are often unwelcome, but the new revision will still include unannounced visits as they are important to upholding the standard.

The revision of the standard will not allow any farms to have both certified and non-certified animals, in order to avoid potential confusion between certified and uncertified down. Standards for wool and angora are also in the works.