I recently took part in one of Faye Cornhill’s coaching weeks (which is fab by the way I totally recommend it for small businesses) and by the end of the week I had a clearer idea of where I wanted my business to go, including future products lined up to make. As well as larger props, I also plan to offer some options for centerpieces which set me off on my usual marathon of Pinterest searching and scrolling. One option I’m particularly interested in creating is a boho theme with many inspirations using feathers. I really love the look of feathers and started to research options on colours and styles I could use. Within a couple minutes I realised to myself that I’ve never really thought about how the feathers are obtained or the animal friendliness of it all! From the media we are very aware of fur and in my 32 years I have never met anyone who owns or would wear clothes made of fur. We’re all very aware the suffering that animals go through on fur farms or those caught in traps in the wild, and although I could have a good guess, I was mostly unaware if cruelty exists or the extent of it in the feather industry and I had to investigate it more!
Straight away I was able to see that 80% of the world’s down and feathers (down being the fluffy underbelly of the birds usually used in bedding and clothes) comes from China. Having lived in China for several years I was concerned straight away given the animal welfare issues I regularly saw from living in Beijing. What I found out was birds are routinely plucked of their feathers over their lifetime before ending up being used for food. The plucking of their feathers causes pain and open wounds with their general living conditions being very poor.
Weddings and craft use aside, I’m now more aware of what to look for when it comes to buying clothes! Suppliers at John Lewis are required to meet the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) which ensures the down used is from farms which prohibit force-feeding and the removal of feathers from live birds. It also ensures that down and feathers come as a by-product from healthy animals who are given the five freedoms (freedom from hunger, thirst, pain, injury, and fear) as well as the freedom to express normal behaviours. Other fashion brands such as H&M, Ikea, North Face, Levi’s and Sorel also comply with the RDS. So, if you’re an eco-conscious shopper then definitely keep an eye out for down products with recognised certifications. For one step further, if using any sort of by-products from animals just isn’t your thing, then Topshop, Sweaty Betty and Asos have banned the use of feathers from their products.
Ok, so feathers used for weddings and crafts!
Type ‘real feathers’ into ebay and it brings back almost 20,000 hits, with most of them coming from, you guessed it, China. Change the settings to show only UK sellers and the number drops to little over 2000 hits. Given that we all know there’s so many Chinese sellers posing as UK sellers, I can only assume that the real figure of feathers from the UK is a lot less than 2000, and then of those UK sellers how many are using at a minimum RDS sourced feathers!
Feathers are sold under different categories:
Ethically sourced means that the feathers have been taken from domestic or free roaming game birds. The feathers will have been taken in compliance with UK Wildlife Conservation regulations which ensures the birds have had a free life and their feathers won’t become a waste product of the bird.
Naturally shed is what it says on the tin! These are feathers naturally shed by the bird and can also be categorised as cruelty free. Birds do not naturally shed large quantities of feathers so genuine sellers of this type of feather shouldn’t be stocking large quantities, neither should they come as complete or matching sets as birds never shed a matching set of beautiful feathers. When looking at different websites I came across one American website selling supposedly natural shed feathers of exotic birds in large and perfect quantities (highly suspicious to me!) Another thing to mention is that if you’re specifically looking for ostrich feathers then they can’t come under this category as they don’t shed their feathers. Ostrich feathers will either be obtained through live plucking or a by-product of meat (a delicacy in Africa)
Finally, there are farm or factory sourced feathers which are a by-product of the meat industry or battery farming. Products made under RDS standards will include farmed birds however their living standards will be higher than those who don’t meet the RDS specifications (think of caged hens vs free range).
So where to buy feathers from and where to avoid
I’m not going to name and shame but if you’re looking for ethically or naturally shed feathers then I would suggest avoiding websites where they’re selling point includes statements including that they have a huge stock, are cheap, and supply in many different colours. From what I’ve seen, these are websites who source their feathers through farming and likely from China. Similarly, for me personally I just couldn’t purchase through ebay now! Also, do a search on etsy for cruelty free feathers and you’ll find a very popular seller who has 244 feather products but on closer inspection only 5 of those 244 come from the cruelty free category.
Useful websites I did find include thefeatherfactory.co.uk. They claim their feathers are all sourced from UK farms, and although include birds such as ostrich and peacock, the majority of their feathers come from poultry or common game birds where their feathers would otherwise be a waste product, and through dyeing techniques they are made to look like feathers from more exotic birds.
Another website I liked was thefeathershop.co.uk. Also including farming birds however they also have a selection of beautiful ethically sourced feathers as well as feathers naturally shed from homing pigeons (they are more beautiful than you might imagine!)
For me I am definitely going to be purchasing some naturally shed feathers to use in my displays and I’ll keep you updated on how it turns out! I hope you found all this useful but ultimately, we all have different levels of what we are comfortable with. While being passionate about animal welfare, I am not a vegetarian, but I am quite strict on making sure I know where my meat comes from as we should with any product we’re using from animals.
Comment below to let me know your thoughts!