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How Localization Helped Allied Feather + Down Weather the Pandemic

As countries shut down to battle the pandemic and retailers canceled orders, Allied Feather + Down continued with work on a new facility in Montreal.

The decision to move forward, though it posed its own unique difficulties, derived from the company’s larger focus on localization—in the past two years, it has added new production facilities in Vietnam, Myanmar, the Czech Republic and now, Canada.

“We found that by expanding into strategic regions, we could better serve our partners by offering materials from local supply chains with the service and quality needed by the largest brands,” Daniel Uretsky, president of the Los Angeles-based supplier of down and feather for apparel, bedding and other products, said in a statement. “This is a regional approach to a global supply chain that adds flexibility with an emphasis on localization.”

That flexibility, Uretsky added, was part of the reason Allied got back up to speed quickly after the Covid-triggered global shutdown. All in all, Allied’s partners did not see any supply disruption on its end, he said.

“Much like climate change’s impact on extreme weather events, we see the current pandemic as a potential beacon for things to come,” Uretsky continued. “Setting up our supply chain with diversity from our expansion positions us nicely to continue to supply all our partners with the sustainable insulation they need even in the event one or two regions have to cull entire flocks or countries get locked down as they have been recently.”

While the strategy of localization protected the manufacturer during the pandemic, it had long been part of Allied’s efforts to reduce its environmental footprint. “It’s no secret that down, as sustainable as it is, can be shipped around the globe for processing and production,” Uretsky said. “We wanted to look at how we could reduce these transit times as part of our overall carbon reduction initiative.”

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Opening its new facility in Kamyk, Czech Republic, for example, allowed Allied to produce bedding for the European market using European down and ship it to European manufacturers as opposed to collecting the down in Europe, shipping to the U.S. and then slingshotting it back to either Europe or China.

In terms of the new Montreal facility, material previously would at times go from Europe to the U.S. back to China for production and then back to North America for distribution. Now, the new facility will simply serve large Canadian partners and retailers with Canadian-sourced and -produced goods.

“In addition to dramatically removing much of the shipping impact, we are also able to better work within the local communities where the products are shipped from,” Allied creative director Matthew Betcher told Sourcing Journal. “This leads to better quality control, more efficient communication between retailers and production for any last-minute changes, and an overall better customer experience.”

The new Montreal facility

Allied built its approximately 100,000-square-foot Montreal facility from the ground up, Betcher said, investing “considerable money” in purchasing new filling and bedding manufacturing equipment. Installing this equipment, however, posed its own challenges.

Typically, technicians would come to help install and build the machines, he said. “During the pandemic, however, we had to adapt and pivot and think of new ways to communicate and get everything up and running,” Betcher added. Allied, like many this year, turned to video chat, with Allied employees, Montreal plant manager Melanie Lamoureux and technicians on the other side of the world communicating over video conference at all hours.

“To build a production facility like this in the midst of a global pandemic took a village of dedicated workers all thinking outside of the box to help get up and running,” Betcher said.

With the production line just completed, the first Allied Home products are just now rolling off the line for Costco Canada with down processing to begin before the end of the year, Betcher said. Allied hopes to increase capacity over the next year so it can offer the down processed in its Montreal facility to all Canadian brand partners. All told, Betcher said the company anticipates adding 100 jobs to the local economy.

In addition to its Montreal facility, Allied also recently broke ground in North Carolina for a facility to service East Coast Allied Home bedding customers.

Outdoor and home thrive during the pandemic

Betcher, who said Allied has seen how well outdoor has been performing compared to fashion, attributed this difference to seasonality. Whereas outdoor products are less tied to tight collection seasons, for fashion, “a season lost is a complete loss of product,” he said. “We also see how the brands and retailers going under seem to mostly be those that have not been able to adapt to changing needs. The outdoor industry brands in general seem to be far more aware of the need to be innovative and far less based in seasonality.”

Allied has also seen growth in the home category. One of the biggest differences Betcher said the company has noticed is resurgent attention to health and wellness, safety and microbial resistance, and sustainability. “Whereas previously, these were secondary or tertiary concerns for the bedding buyer, depending on who they are, they are becoming primary,” Betcher observed. “It’s the old adage that we spend more time in our bed than anywhere else in our home, it shouldn’t necessarily be the first place to try to cut corners.”