Rest comfortably knowing we know down
WHAT'S UP? DOWN...The hottest selling insulator is goose down!
DOWN is up! No, this isn't another story about our topsy-turvy world, it's about DOWN--the fluffy, shaftless under-covering of the breast of geese and ducks.
What's up with DOWN? The price for one thing. Also, business in general, when products made from it are keeping its owners warm and comfortable and its manufacturers in fine feathers.
The geese that fills a fine DOWN comforter are almost as valuable as its relative that lays the golden eggs. It took the jet age, Chinese feather exporters, changes in the American life-style and the energy crisis to do it
Americans are the leading consumers of DOWN. In 1998 we imported 78 million pounds of feathers, up from 22 million pounds the previous year. Latest figures are not yet available but it is estimated that it has doubled in the past four years. 65% of the worlds supply of 'feathers' from geese and ducks comes from China.
No one is quite sure why DOWN-filled products and outerwear have moved from the pages of Field & Stream to fashion magazines. Those within the industry say its the energy crisis, as more folks turn down their thermostats at night and snuggle under a soft DOWN comforter. True, the back to nature movement, sleeping with your bedroom windows open, the good-health kick and the fact that many medical doctors suggest that electric blankets are not 'best' for the human body--all add-up to DOWN comforters' popularity. "Sleeping under one for a few nights makes a believer out of you", said Don Shingler, Chairman of Don Shingler, Inc., Seattle, a leading designer and manufacturer of goose DOWN comforters whose company started many, many years ago.
"DOWN or feather/DOWN mixtures is used extensively in five industries" said Shingler. "Two of these (upholstered furniture and pillows) use the properties of DOWN compression with continued resilience to spring back into shape as the prime reason for usage. Three (sleeping bags, comforters and clothing) use the insulative properties that DOWN possesses to comfort the human body as the prime reason."
Feathers, with its quill that is hollow and filled with oils from the goose, must be separated from DOWN and then washed. Fourteen percent of the feather/DOWN that is removed from an adult goose is DOWN--the balance is feather. About 30% of this feather is commercially usable when used with DOWN or separately as used in 100% feather pillows," Shingler concluded.
The separation of the DOWN from the feather is followed by a special washing cycle using modern detergent soaps which remove the oils from the quill and permit the clean DOWN to loft and be resilient and to create a life-time of user comfort. Since the use of detergent soaps, few persons who previously claimed being allergic actually are allergic to DOWN now as it comes in modern comforters. DOWN has only one 'enemy'--this is mildew. When damp, DOWN must be dried before rot and mildew sets in.
Every country in the world has geese and ducks in great abundance. In fact it's like electricity; countries where electricity is common means that refrigeration is also common--which permits beef, chicken and turkey (which spoil quickly without refrigeration) to be a volume food item. In lesser-developed countries like China, without an electric refrigerator in every home, then ducks and geese and pigs must supply the protein in the general diet.
Are there lots of ducks and geese? "Yes" said Shingler, "One of the most interesting facts about DOWN is that geese and ducks are raised in every country. DOWN is the "butter 'n egg" money of the world. The housewife saves it up and she exchanges it at the local marketplace. In America, we eat chicken and turkey, yet the rest of the world eats duck and goose. In America, every home has refrigeration and without it, chicken and turkey will spoil quickly. Yet with a little curing, a goose or duck will remain tasty for weeks and weeks. Also, chicken and turkey flocks are prone to have colds that will wipe-out a whole flock, yet both ducks and geese are much hardier--even finding their own food supply. In the Far East, from Korea to Borneo, ducks and geese go to the fields daily, like we herd sheep- and while the workers care for the crops, the ducks and geese eat slugs and other insects and forage for their own food."
When did you last order a duck or goose for dinner? It's part of every weeks food budget in most parts of the world--except America where the chicken and the turkey are kings. Travelers from America to the Far East and to Europe are always amazed to see, in the local food markets, ducks and geese hanging in plain view, cured and exposed to the elements awaiting purchase. Is it sanitary? Of course, and its been going on for several thousand years.
Don Shingler told this interesting story. "In the small villages in China, everyone brings their ducks and geese to the river bank, still alive and kicking. The bird is muddied and the feathers and DOWN is removed (still alive) and the mud with the feathers and DOWN-entwined together, is added to a big mud-ball on the river bank. Then come the "feather merchants" to buy mud-balls. This village has an excellent reputation--only feathers, DOWN and mud in their ball . . . while four miles away, another village includes rocks and sticks to make their balls heavier. But of course, the feather merchants recognize which village has the best product".
I asked 'how' DOWN got its start to this unusual popularity. "Of course, skiing really caused the volume growth but I believe the stage was set for this growth before Pearl Harbor. The B-17 Boeing Bomber pre-dated the ability to stay warm and comfortable upstairs. Remember" Shingler continued, "It was the first of the hi-flying planes and there was no heat within the plane. Then, with its bomb-bay doors and machine gun turrets open, the crew had great problems until the B-17 DOWN flying suit became the greatest piece of prized personal equipment a flyer could possess". Three quarters a century ago, as people in great numbers arrived at Ellis island, the 'most valuable' possession carried by the young and old was a DOWN comforter. Today, a DOWN comforter, because of its price, may be considered a luxury to some, yet to others a personal necessity.
Most all inns and hotels in Europe have offered DOWN comforters for many years and when Americans arrive home one of the first things they do is to purchase a DOWN comforter for their own bed. Now DOWN products are greatly respected for what they are--personal luxury at affordable prices--with a lifetime of personal comfort".
DOWN is for the whole family. Today there is a wide variety of DOWN and feather/DOWN products. For the home, there are comforters, pillows and feather beds and furniture . . . and DOWN lounging robes. Outerwear, no longer bought by campers and sportsmen alone, includes ski apparel, masks, sweaters, vests, socks, booties, long underwear, muffs and mittens. For the worker who must be outdoors in the cold, there are special winter police coats, parkas for the frozen winter, and of course, DOWN sleeping bags--all at affordable prices.
Seventy five percent of all DOWN items sold in the United States originate in Washington State (Greater Seattle) where the DOWN industry got its start. In all, over 1,000 persons work in these factories.
Why is DOWN a major industry in Seattle? One assumes the proximity to the mountains, sea and wilderness recreation areas would determine the matter. Perhaps that's only half of the reason because it's the reputation for quality in DOWN products that has caused Seattle's manufacturers to provide nearly all of America's DOWN filled comforters, vests, other apparel and sleeping bags.
The buoyancy of DOWN creates an airy insulation which conforms to body temperatures. Therefore, DOWN can keep a person warm when the weather is cold and cool when it's warm. A person wearing a DOWN coat can go from the ski slopes with a brittle far-below zero temperature into a warm lodge--a temperature change of 80 degrees--and not notice the difference. DOWN also has the ability to ‘wick-out’ or draw perspiration from the body, which helps keep in the warmth. It also is naturally resilient--a DOWN filled product rolled into a small package will return to its "loft" or puffiness when reopened. Many travelers carry their DOWN comforters and pillows with them when traveling and take them into their motel to sleep ‘just like at home’.
One thing is certain and positive about the people of all ages that sleep under a DOWN comforter--they are personally contented and very verbal as they encourage their friends to try DOWN, and the cycle repeats itself again and again, doubling with each step. The industry predicts that energy crisis will cause a growth of over 800% in the purchase of DOWN comforters over the next four years.
Unlike some other fashion fads, DOWN filled products are practical. DOWN is considered the finest insulator against cold. The shaftless, fluffy DOWN clusters, which came from the breast and underbelly of ducks and geese, trap the cold, yet are totally breathable. Comfort is the word! It takes approximately three times as much man-made fiber to equal the comfort that lightweight DOWN provides. DOWN is ageless for it has no enemies--nothing eats it, age doesn't cause it to breakdown. In fact, thousands of comforters are being recycled from old and tired fabrics into the new tubular-constructed modern method with its removable and washable cover, and the old DOWN that has served so well over many years is about to begin another 40 years of service and comfort to its owners.
It takes about 28 mature geese to yield a pound of DOWN. If we imported 22 million pounds in 1976...that's a staggering one hundred and ten million geese. Sounds like a lot as most DOWN is imported from China, Taiwan and the European countries, where it's a by-product of the food industry, however with eight hundred million people living in China, that's not even one goose per person per year.
Actually (at present) there is no shortage of DOWN--its popularity and customer acceptance is just driving the price up and up and still up. Since trade restrictions were lifted with Mainland China, feather/DOWN has been the largest dollar export from China.
Don Shingler, industry consultant and one of the most widely respected leaders commented: "While there is no actual shortage at present, there will develop a real one in the future. The energy crisis is not common only to America. Every part of the world--especially where winter chills require insulation--have 'discovered' DOWN much the same as America. Prime DOWN is a product in universal demand. The principle resource is China with over 65% of the total world's supply. Up to two years ago, they were content to sell feather/DOWN in bales, like we bale hay of several hundred pounds each. Now they desire to sell the end-product. Are they wrong? Of course not! What would you do, if you had something everyone wanted-and were willing to pay your price? Blame it on the Chinese if you want . . . but when you have a commodity in universal demand--with one country holding the capabilities of supplying 65% of the world supply, and that country desiring to enter the world apparel and comforter market as Japan, Korea and Hong Kong entered textiles . . . the price per pound of PRIME DOWN is never again going to be reasonable"
But is all this bad? We don't think so. Example: for 20 straight years the retail sporting goods stores across America bought heavier and heavier into DOWN garments each year, yet at the end of the season it was their DOWN products inventory that was sold-out while other insulations (many priced equal or even higher) that were still unsold. And visit any campfire, any ski slope,any gathering of two or more outdoor people, and the talk turns to the COMFORT of DOWN products. Visit any home with a DOWN comforter on the master's bed, and you'll not leave without being brainwashed on how great sleeping is 'since we got our DOWN comforter'.
Many people, until they have actually slept under a light DOWN comforter, cannot understand 'what it's all about', why it's considered the second most valuable thing in the bedroom. Imagine, windows wide open; fresh air to breathe --and you're now under a comforter that is so light in weight as to convince you that it just can't be that great - until you've had the greatest night's sleep of your life. Yes, five nights under one will make a believer of you - and a talker too as you tell everyone who will listen about eight second bed-making.
An often asked question, according to Don Shingler, is the relative value of goose DOWN over duck DOWN. Recent tests by qualified testing bureaus indicate that less than 7% separate these values and often good duck excels over poor goose yet the prices are dollars apart. Labels don't offer much real information yet Federal Trade Commission requires that to be lawful DOWN, less than 18% (by weight) be of feathers from the same bird. I asked if there was any mislabeling and learned that the DOWN industry, despite what you hear in jokes about "feather-merchants", is in excellent hands and that occasionally a garment may be labeled 'goose' when it actually is 'duck', but this is understandable when it's been reported that there are fewer than a dozen men in all of the United States that can inspect DOWN and tell which type of bird it comes from.
I had been asking about the labeling of DOWN products because I had recently been reading a catalog and noticed they offered a "DOWN and Feather filled parka" with the copy reading "fill is 8O% Duck DOWN and 20% feathers". Don Shingler's response was most revealing to what may become the trend to satisfy the Truth in Labeling Laws—but the consumer may not receive what he thinks he is to get. Shingler said, "Five years ago the total industry agreed on the word DOWN as that product having 18% or less (by weight) of feather; however, even the DOWN plumule part was not precise as it permitted up to 10% of broken DOWN or fiber parts (particles). Thus, a correctly labeled item filled with 18% feather, 70% plumules 10% particles and 2% residue . . . correctly could be labeled as "DOWN". But now we begin to see labeling as "fill is 80% DOWN and 20% feather" . .and while this label seems to be correct - it actually means that the eighty percent now has additional 20% feather added.
Additionally, in purchasing a comforter, you should assure yourself that the DOWN is of good grade by squeezing the comforter with your fingers for when it has a heavy feather mixture, you can feel the many quills. Feather cannot loft, cannot give long years of comfort.
Many years ago, all DOWN comforters were made with a satin cover - which slid off the bed and was difficult to clean. Today, the DOWN comforter is like a pillow: it has a removable, washable cover made of fashionable designer sheets, permanent pressed and in a vast array of colors. In this method, the housewife can match her bottom sheet (no top sheet nor bedspread is ever needed again) and her pillow cases can match also. The every-day drudgery of 'making beds' is now solved. Jump out of bed, grab the comforter and give it a big shake and as it settles to the bed, you're down stairs drinking the morning orange juice. When a fresh new-look is desired, just purchase two flat sheets, a long zipper and lo'n behold, a total change to the master's bed. . .
And then I had to ask, me and my big mouth - I asked Don Shingler what they did with the big feathers that are a by-product of importing DOWN, and he answered that he had read it in the newspaper (editor - take note) that they were grinding up feathers, heavy in protein, and mixing it with cookie batter - and those that ate them . . . are you still with me or did you get-off one paragraph back?
I telephoned that I was on my way home to dinner - and then I asked (me and my big rnouth)-- what were we having for dinner . . .
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