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Better Businesses

Better Businesses: DownTek

We saw a lot of innovative and sustainably driven businesses at Outdoor Retailer this year, but a few truly impressed Trek Tech. One of which is DownTek. Not only does their company model make for an exceptional Better Business, but their product has significantly influenced the outdoor industry and enhanced the outdoor experience. For years, down has been praised for its warmth to weight ratio. However, the biggest problem with down, until recently, is its inability to hold loft and keep you insulated once wet. We saw for ourselves at Outdoor Retailer DownTek’s incredible solution to this problem. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to chat with Caroline who works with Sustainable Down Source and DownTek. and ask her some questions about the industry changing DownTek. img_3742
TrekTech: What is DownTek and what is its relationship to Down Décor and Sustainable Down Source?
DownTek: DownTek is a brand of water repellant down sold by Sustainable Down Source. Sustainable Down Source is a division of Down Decor. Down Decor has two divisions, Sustainable Down Source and Down Decor Home Textiles.  Thanks to the recognition of DownTek and DownTek ZeroPFC, the bulk down division of Down Decor grew significantly and in the last year became an entity of its own, rendering the natural transition to Sustainable Down Source. While still a division of Down Decor – including shared headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio – SDS now serves as a bulk down supplier of regular down, DownTek, and DownTek ZeroPFC to the outdoor, fashion, and home textiles industries.  Down Decor Home Textiles, meanwhile, focuses on cut and sew and filling (pillows and comforters, both down and synthetic) for home textiles. img_3649
TT: There’s so much hype around DownTek! In what ways is it better than ‘traditional’ down fill?
DT: When regular down is exposed to moisture, the water molecules cling to the filaments of the cluster, weighing it down and forcing the cluster to collapse. Once collapsed, down loses its ability to insulate because the pockets of air that provide insulation are gone. Air pockets on the down clusters of DownTek™ Water Repellent Down do not collapse. The DWR treatment creates surface tension on the filaments of the down clusters that forces the moisture molecules to bead up and roll off the down, leaving each cluster free to continue trapping warm air, thereby maintaining the ability to insulate even when exposed to water. IDFL* developed the ‘shake test’: a global standard for the measurement of how well DWR down performs when subjected to water. They put 2 grams of down in a jar along with 400 ml of water and place the jar on an oscillating machine. Then they check the level of saturation at various time intervals until the down is completely submerged – meaning the clusters have completely collapsed and the down is no longer able to insulate. Whereas untreated down lasts anywhere from 25-60 minutes before becoming completely saturated, DownTek™ Water Repellent Down lasts anywhere from 800-1000 minutes. This is with the down being in direct and constant contact with water for that length of time.
TT: In what ways is your company striving to be environmentally ethical?
DT: Sustainable Down Source is taking a number of steps to be environmentally ethical. We are collaborating with industry groups to address environmental concerns and help develop solutions. Besides being RDS certified, we are also part of SAC, ZDHC, and a bluesign system partner. We also use the Higg Index to measure our sustainability efforts – meaning we can gauge our progress and identify areas in need of additional attention. Below is a summary of these affiliations.
  1. SAC /HIGG Index
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition is a unique and extraordinary alliance comprised of :
  • Companies of all sizes from all sectors of fashion, manufacturing, and retail
  • NGO’s dedicated to environmental, social, and trade issues
  • Sustainability experts
  • Affiliated trade organizations
This unprecedented collaboration has resulted in an equally unprecedented plan for sustainable production in the apparel, footwear, and home textiles industries. Central to the plan is the Higg Index, a suite of assessment tools that allows brands, retailers, and manufacturers to measure the environmental, labor, and social impact they are making at every step of the supply chain. These self-assessment tools enable members to evaluate areas of risk, areas of strength, and areas where improvements can be made. SDS is a proud member of SAC and has implemented use of the Higg Index at both facilities in the USA, with plans to begin modules for assessment of our Taiwan and Nanjing facilities in 2016. By using the Higg Index, we were able to quantify our impact in a way that was not previously available to us. As a result of our findings we have undergone facility renovations for cleaner air emissions and minimized use of electrical power, as well as implemented employee engagement and health initiatives, and developed a rigorous recycling program to minimize the amount of waste to local landfills. SAC is making a significant impact on the sustainability efforts in manufacturing and retail and SDS is excited to be part of a coalition comprised of individuals who understand that large scale and lasting change can only be achieved by working together. For more information visit: http://apparelcoalition.org
  1. ZDHC
The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemical Programme has identified and fulfilled the need for a comprehensive list of restricted substances that includes in-depth research to identify potential hazards and audit protocols applicable cross-industry and throughout the supply chain to eliminate the hazards once identified. The audit protocols are an important feature to the ZDHC Programme as they provide a uniform and consistent process for identifying areas of risk and implementing the appropriate steps to eliminate the presence of harmful substances from every step of the supply chain. Another central aspect of the ZDHC Programme is a focus on water management. Water efficiency and wastewater discharge quality are both integral to sustainable manufacturing. In 2016 ZDHC released the Wastewater Quality Discharge Guideline, which provides a unified standard by which the manufacturing supply chain can gauge their degree of compliance and identify areas in need of improvement. SDS is a contributing member to ZDHC and is pleased to be part of the Roadmap to Zero. For more information visit: www.roadmaptozero.com
  1. Bluesign
As a bluesign® system partner, SDS is committed to applying the bluesign® system which unites the entire textile supply chain to jointly reduce its impact on people and the environment. The Input Stream Management ensures that approved chemical products and raw materials are used in all steps of the manufacturing process. Substances posing risks to people and the environment are hence eliminated from the very beginning. On-site inspections verify the proper application of such chemical products and raw materials in controlled processes and ensure the responsible use of resources. bluesign® system partners are responsibly acting parties of the textile supply chain committed to applying the bluesign® system. They aim to continuously improve their environmental performance and are focused on a sustainable future. For more information visit: www.bluesign.com
  1. “We employ a proprietary application method instead of a bath treatment, thereby eliminating waste run-off.” This sounds fascinating! Can you expand and explain what this means?
We protect our affluent waste water run-off from harmful substances so that these elements do not end up in the environment. bags-of-down3
TT: Can you define ‘ethically sourced’ down. – What does RDS mean? Why is this term important?
DT: The Responsible Down Standard is a rigorous certification process that ensures the ethical treatment of birds. While down and feathers are a by-product of the meat industry, it has been the down and feather industry that has taken the lead in ensuring that birds being slaughtered for their meat are not force-fed or live plucked and that at each step in the supply chain the Five Freedoms are respected and enforced. RDS certification follows the chain of custody from farm to final product, with each step in the supply chain undergoing annual audits. Upon passing the audit, each facility is awarded a Scope Certificate that verifies compliance with the expectations set forth by RDS. In addition to the Scope Certificate, Transaction Certificates (TC’s) are also issued with each sale and purchase of RDS down and feathers as it goes from slaughter-house, to processor, to bulk down supplier, to factory, to retail- providing a verifiable paper trail and reinforcing the integrity and traceability of the program. Long before RDS was established as the standard for ensuring the ethical treatment of birds, SDS (then Down Decor) voluntarily underwent annual, third party audits to ensure that no live-plucking or force-feeding occurred in the supply chain. SDS is fully committed to the ethical treatment of birds and we only buy down and feathers from verifiable sources. While it is a very small percentage of the world’s down supply that comes from live-plucking, it is nonetheless a serious issue and requires serious attention. SDS is proud to be RDS certified and to offer RDS certification for our regular bulk down, DownTek Water Repellent Down, and DownTek ZeroPFC.
TT: Zero PFC, ‘perfluorocarbon-free water repellent down’, can you explain this in lamens terms?
DT: From the beginning Down Decor realized the importance of clean chemistry and DownTek was developed with no long-chain carbons (which persist in the environment), instead using a C6 short-chain carbon (which has a half life of 15 minutes and is deemed safe by the EPA). By 2014, the outdoor, fashion, and home textiles industries were making a clear shift towards more sustainable business practices, including greater focus on chemicals management, environmental sustainability, and social responsibility. While C6 DWR is still considered safe for use, Down Decor developed DownTek ZeroPFC, a carbon-free DWR option. Instead of carbons, ZeroPFC uses lipids to create water repellency. The DWR performance is not as strong as with original DownTek (see explanation of ‘shake test’ below) but is still significantly greater than that of regular down.
TT: How can we, as consumers of down products, educate ourselves more on the issue of sustainably sourcing down? Why is sustainably sourced down so important?
DT: The RDS website (www.responsibledown.org) is very informative regarding sustainably sourced down. Sustainably/ethically sourced down means that measures and audits have been put in place to eliminate any threat of force feeding or live-plucking of the birds. It means that the birds are treated humanely from hatch to slaughter. It’s important to keep in mind that birds are only slaughtered for their meat. Ducks and geese are a primary food source in Asia and Eastern Europe, much like chicken is in the USA. If everyone in the world quit eating ducks and geese then there would no longer be a down industry. Down is only a by-product of the meat industry. The total monetary value of the bird that comes from it’s down and feathers is less than 9%. Despite the meat industry being the primary money maker in the slaughter of birds, it has been the down industry that has led and shouldered the cost of the movement to ensure that birds are treated humanely throughout their lives, leading to a humane slaughter.
TT: What are some of the companies using DownTek?
DT: LL Bean, Big Agnes, Marmot, Enlightened, EMS, Reecho, Mountain Designs, to name a few besides several fashion brands.
TT: Does DownTek have any new products or tech coming out that you can share about with us? What are DownTek’s goals for 2017?
DT: Sustainable Down Source is always working on making our products better. We cannot release the details of our current project, but we are excited about the possibilities.
*International Down and Feather Laboratory (IDFL). IDFL is a third-party testing facility that provides a wide range of tests.  
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