The Down Low on Down: Q&A with Matthew Betcher from ALLIED Feather & Down

From their own down bedding line to providing the filling for jackets made by favorite adventure ware brands like North Face and Helly Hansen, ALLIED Feather & Down has been leading the way as the source for responsibly sourced down products for more their 30 years now. We sat down with ALLIED Feather & Down Creative Director Matthew Betcher to find out more about the company that worked with The North Face to develop the Responsible Down Standard for products to learn more about this unique company.

Q: Tell us about the history of ALLIED Feather & Down, you’ve been in business for a few decades now right?

MB: ALLIED was formed 30 years primarily as an insulation brand selling the high quality down needed for a growing technical outdoor market. In the past, and still to a large part today, many providers of down are bedding companies who sell the same down that goes into a comforter to this market. The quality of down in a comforter can be significantly different than that needed for a high-performance apparel insulation. Since the comforter uses heavy textiles and much more down than any jacket, the requirements are different enough as to necessitate a completely different way of sourcing, processing and shipping the material.

ALLIED was the first down provider to sell primarily to this market as an insulation brand and continues the spirit of innovation, traceability and sustainability practices needed to continue to help grow this market.

Q: What prompted Steve Uretsky to start the company?

Steve had been working in the bedding industry for some time prior to starting ALLIED. Seeing exactly what kind of material was being used for the bedding industry and having inquiries from a growing outdoor and technical market, he soon realized that the way down had been procured then was not going to suffice and offer the levels of performance, consistency, traceability and sustainable processing this industry would need.

The first thing Steve did was change the global down supply chain.

At the time, the down supply chain had been a network of brokers aggregating material from sources unknown and selling it to bedding companies and down suppliers. By bypassing these brokers and developing relationships with the sources directly, Steve understood a brand like ALLIED could far better control the quality of the material, price and offer a level of transparency and traceability previously though impossible.

Also with these relationships developed over decades, ALLIED was able to work with The North Face and develop the Responsible Down Standard which has now become the model for all animal welfare standards in the textile industry.

Q: What sustainability practices should readers be aware of? 

One of the goals of growing a global footprint of production facilities is to be able to cut down on the carbon footprint of an already tremendously sustainable material. By minimizing the amount of travel, we we will further reduce the impact on the environment.

We also continue to look at ways to innovate with each and every product line and improve processing methods with innovative industry leading partners in each of their fields. As we developed a home laundry detergent, for example, we realized that almost all detergents used palm oil derivatives so within two months, we had our entire supply chain audited and every palm oil surfactant replaced. ALLIED became only the fourth company to be certified palm oil free by the International Palm Oil Free Certification Program.

The one area where down does consume resources is in the water used for processing. Even though we recycle millions of gallons of water each year through our processing practices, we are still looking at ways to further reduce water usage. We are developing a new Water Resistant treatment and does not require water for application and are looking at additional treatments and detergents that, combined, with both reduce the amount of water used in the processing as well as the time needed to dry the material.

We know down is amongst the most sustainable and lowest impact insulations available and we continue to do everything we can minimize what little resources are already used to provide the best insulation on and FOR the planet.

Q: What’s ahead for Allied Feather & Down? or What are future goals? 

In addition to pushing innovation from both a performance and sustainability perspective, ALLIED is looking at other ways to work with similar protein structures to provide additional insulation options that are natural, bio-degradable and still live up the high performing insulative properties ALLIED is known for. Ultimately, like many other industries, we are quickly becoming an innovation and technology company using as a foundation all that we know about what is effectively the world’s oldest insulation.

And beyond the products, ALLIED is working with our partners to develop innovative retail solutions to bring positive awareness and education to this insulation. For so many years, down has remained generic with attack after attack lobbied by animal activist organizations. While there are very real problems in any supply chain, ALLIED has worked to ensure no such abuses occur within ours. But until now, no one has been able or willing to step up to what is effectively a campaign of misinformation and talk about the positive attributes of a material like down. While we understand any animal welfare organization’s concern (and work very closely with many), the solution to simply adopt petroleum based non bio-degradable micro fibers is not one that is completely responsible. We see what all the very early research is just starting to dig up regarding micro fiber pollution. It’s time that we look to more natural based solutions and some of the solutions, like down, have already been around for centuries.

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