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Manufacturing in China, Ethics of Down and everything else....

I must confess when I started out on this venture I knew very little about outdoor equipment. I knew what 'I' wanted from my outdoor kit and I knew what price I could afford to pay for it - I then set up 'Summiteer' around that philosophy. 

When looking for a first product to get us up and running I knew what I needed. It had to be a product that was instantly comparable to other companies. And that's how the Glow Worm's started. The idea that most wild campers, climbers and mountaineers knew what price a goose down sleeping bag generally retailed at and from that they could see a product like the Glow Worm and immediately recognise its quality and value.  

Within the last 10 years the world has started to look more readily into down production.
Many manufacturers use factories out in china to produce their down products (Summiteer included) and with this becomes the problem with it all. Companies producing on a large scale may use one factory, but that factory will use many different sources to get its down from. This then creates the question "how can any manufacturer know its down is 100% ethical" - ethical generally meaning 'not live plucked', although there are other factors also to consider. Surely if we are concerned about the living conditions of the chickens we get our eggs from, we should be concerned also about the living conditions of the geese and ducks we get our down from? Though I must admit I never did think about the chickens I got my eggs from. I guess I always viewed  battery hens as kind of living in a house share/ student accomodation with their mates - Whilst one of them may have had to kip in the bath, they probably had a good laugh and enjoyed each others company. And similarly I was probably just as uneducated when buying a down sleeping bag, the ethics of the down and the living conditions of its geese didn't really cross my mind. 

As a manufacturer I soon realised this was a big deal! I didn't want a bad reputation and when things are done on such a mass scale in the world of down, I didn't want to be responsible for unnecessary pain and cruel living conditions. My responsibilities were identical to that of the Prime Minister's.

Unfortunately there is also a bit of stereotype (dare I say it) around the Chinese ethos of manufacturing. Maybe when things first started being made out there, the quality control wasn't up to standard, but I can only say good things about Chinese businesses going off my encounters with them. If I were to be stereo typical and wrap up the chinese as a whole I would say they're incredibly polite, honest, reliable people with a work ethic we could all aspire to. The bad press chinese factories get has also, I believe, gone quite deep with the down ethics thing. The idea of plucking feathers out of birds whilst they're still alive is quite barbaric to say the least. And I'm sure the majority of China would agree with me on that. But somehow the moment someone hears that down is sourced from China, a whole bunch of questions arise asking how ethical it is. But that's not to say that it doesn't go on in China, it obviously does and it is a very serious thing.

The factory I was in contact with (and now use) seemed pretty perfect. They farm their geese and ducks on a 30 acre plot of land with plenty of water and open space. The living conditions (although I'm sure could be improved even further) are of a high standard. They pluck the birds after slaughter and sell the meat on to other companies. I have been invited many times to go out and visit their factory and farm, and this is something I am really looking forward to doing, when we have the funds, hopefully in the not so distant future. Now this is all great for the time being. Unlike bigger companies I am able to use one source of down directly from the factory. As the company gets bigger and down supply increases I may have to come up with different ways of insuring the ethics of the down we use and we then join the big problem every other sleeping bag/jacket manufacturer has.

No doubt when a new company appears on the UK market manufacturing sleeping bags through a Chinese factory, down ethics is often the first debate to arise. Many people leave comments on online forums etc. It is a little too tricky to respond in the detail that is needed, so no doubt this blog article will be a place of reference for those who want to find out more. I also strongly suggest reading this article. A great interview UKC did with Mountain Equipment. Many people believe down production and it's ethics to be black or white, but in fact it can be a very grey area, particularly for larger companies and factories that source their down from multiple farms. http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/press.php?id=5183

The photographs displayed in this blog are from the farm our down is taken from. As you can see most the geese are busy engaged in political conversation or enjoying a morning splash in the lake, they all have their feathers in tact and have a good amount of space to live a happy life together. I'm told they also have a games room and a union bar where they regularly engage in down ethics debates, but I haven't any pictures to supports this statement unfortunately.

All the Best,

Ethan

 

 



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  • Mint Outdoors on

    Great article Ethan, it’s nice to know that some thought has gone into your products and that you are stating your business on an ethical footing.


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