Should feathers be the next material banned from Fashion?

Should feathers be banned for adorning garments? Animal cruelty is a hot topic since the luxury fashion houses all but collectively agreed to stop using fur for their runway collections.

Feathers generally are considered an animal by-product much the way that leather is a by-product of the meat industry. A large portion of the plumage used in fashion actually comes from chickens, turkeys and pheasants who’s feathers are treated and dyed before use. For those animals where feathers is not a by-product, there really is no kind method to pluck an animal, even if it doesn’t result in its death.

While live plucking is legally prohibited in the European Union, it is still possible to ‘harvest’ the down during the natural moulting cycles of the birds. But this still leaves the birds vulnerable to being hurt during the process and in reality, it is very hard to identify live-plucking.

According to Peta, “feathers aren’t obtained humanely from animals. They likely came from terrified birds who were killed for their flesh or skin. Just like buying items made with down, purchasing ones made with feathers supports the cruel meat and exotic-skin industries, because many farmers who raise birds for food or clothing make an extra profit by selling their feathers."

Last year Peta revealed a video showing birds being aggressively plucked of their feathers while still alive in farms in China (where 80 per cent of the world's down feathers originate from), despite having "connections to retail suppliers that are certified by the Responsible Down Standard, which prohibits live plucking of geese.”

What are the options for brands and retailers?

While brands like Canada Goose and Moncler are not likely to alter their traditional ski jackets, there are ways to incorporate responsible feathers and down. One such organisation is the Responsible Down Standard, an independent, voluntary global standard, which means companies can choose to certify their products to the RDS, even if there is no legislation requiring them to do so. The RDS was developed with the input of animal welfare groups, industry experts, brands and retailers, recognising and rewarding the best practices in animal welfare.

What about feathers as decoration?

Fluffy boas, marabou-swathed cocktail dresses, bags and accessories adorned with feathers, often seen as trims on hems and necklines. Are their alternatives? Milliner Stephen Jones told the Guardian that whilst he uses animal feathers for his hat creations, he also works with artificial materials such as plastic and tulle. Other alternatives include microfibre, polyester and memory foam.

It may seem like a daunting task for a brand to undertake a full supply chain standard, but there are training tools to get certified if a brand so desires. Not only farmers, but designers, retailers, conglomerates and supply chain members can make the choice to respect animal welfare, making their supply chain fully traceable. And consumers have the choice to only purchase and wear Responsible Down Standard products.

Photo credit: Responsible Down Standard website