Vegan Alternatives to Down

Down is yet another animal-based substance that vegans must avoid. As with nearly all items taken from animals, the production of down creates substantial suffering.

Consists of the fluffy super-fine fibers that cover the skin of geese and ducks, down is quite pricey, but it offers unmatched insulation properties. Even after decades of massive material science innovations accomplished within the the textile industry, when measured by weight down remains the warmest insulating fiber available. Premium winter jackets, comforters, pillows, and sleeping bags may all contain down.

Down and Animal Cruelty

Much of the world’s down is plucked from living, fully-conscious birds. The United States and the European Union have banned live-plucking. Unfortunately, China produces about 80 percent of the world’s down. China has not outlawed live-plucking, and the nation has enacted few laws protecting farmed animals.

In 2016, PETA released video footage documenting the appalling cruelties occurring in China. The footage shows workers ripping feathers from live, struggling birds.

Vegan Alternatives to Down

There are better ways to keep warm in the winter than by purchasing down.

Down is waterproof when it’s keeping a duck or goose toasty warm while swimming on a frigid lake. But once it’s torn from the birds and made into apparel, these waterproof qualities are lost. Exposure to water ruins down garments and bedding. Dry cleaning is the only way to launder these items.

By contrast, water will not harm synthetics, and that’s just the start of their advantages. Garments based on synthetics rarely require dry-cleaning. They’re not absurdly puffy. Finally, even premium synthetics are much cheaper than down.

One of the most technologically advanced vegan synthetics is Thinsulate®, a durable and waterproof textile designed for cold weather and made by materials science giant 3M. The company doesn’t itself make apparel, but instead sells Thinsulate to various clothing companies. Look for it on the labels of better winter outerwear. 3M makes a number of varieties of Thinsulate, both for clothing and building materials. Their featherless variety offers an excellent vegan alternative to down, and the company markets it as, “a kinder alternative to feathers.”

If you want to go upscale, a company called Pangaia makes very expensive puffy down-style jackets stuffed with processed wildflowers. You can also buy a warm and fluffy down-style pillows made from spun recycled plastic bottles.

Don’t berate yourself over these past purchases of down-filled products, since you likely had no idea about the cruelty involved. Instead, you can make an important difference by committing to never again purchase these sorts of items. Synthetic alternatives to down are constantly improving.

For further reading: other cruel animal products worth avoiding include leather, wool, fur, silk, and suede.
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