The Deep “Down” Dark truth behind the Feather Plucking Business


The North face is a popular American outdoor product company that specializes mostly in winter gear such as coats, jackets, fleece, hats, gloves, etc. It is a well-known and respected brand, yet recently it has been facing some ethical challenges in their operations. There has been a lot of controversy over down insulation. Down insulation is used due to the benefits it has of providing warmth during extreme cold weather. Yet the process of collecting these feathers is not so nice and simple. Basically many of the ducks and geese are often plucked alive, and “many of the fine feathers in comforters and puffy coats come from birds that were force-fed to make foie gras” (Stock). The North Face is one of the brands to recognize this problem in their supply chain and their goal is to create one that all customers can have a positive thought of. This relates back to our class since we discussed some of the new challenges that operations managers face, such as the increasing global focus, ethical, social responsibility and sustainability challenges. Basically companies are expected to develop products that are of high quality and sustainability. This could be seen in the actions North face is taking by changing their operations into something much more ethical, sustainable that affects everyone around the world. In the article it states, “We’re trying to change the down industry on a global level,” says Adam Mott, director of sustainability at North Face, a unit of apparel conglomerate VF Corp. “And we’re trying to create a standard that’s inclusive enough that anyone can use it”(Stock). Northface is changing its certification standard to become more environmentally focused, the birds that the feathers come from cannot be raised in harsh conditions. They need appropriate food, water and living conditions. Northface is going to have this supply chain documented clearly so that only qualified feathers will be turned into down insulation in their products. By next year a lot of products will be labeled with “RDS” which stands for “renewable down standard”. Recently a lot of other companies such as H&M, Eddie Bauer and Marmot have caught on with this major change, while Patagonia has been having clean down program for over six years. Yet the biggest challenge companies such as the Northface have to face is to convince duck and goose farmers in China and Eastern Europe, who provide most of the feathers, to change their operations and become environmentally focused, since most of the money they make, comes from meat of the birds and not the feathers. Even though there are still many obstacles along the way, Northface is following a new more sustainable path through it’s RDS program that they hope will raise consumer interest and allow them to compete with their biggest rival Patagonia.

Stock, Kyle. “North Face and H&M Try to Clean Up the Down Business.” Bloomberg Business Week. Bloomberg, 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Do you think there are other challenges that operations managers of companies such as Northface are going to face?

Do you think by refocusing its ethical approach to down insulation and creating new standards will benefit Northface as a Company? Will the sales and consume interest increase, even though Northface will be competing with sustainable brands like Patagonia who have their own clean down program (PDF) as early as 2007?

4 thoughts on “The Deep “Down” Dark truth behind the Feather Plucking Business

  1. I found this article to be very interesting and representative of ethical standards expected by such large corporations. Whether Northface follows through with their mission or not is left to be seen, however publicly announcing that they are going to pay attention to how their feathers are acquired is a step towards their moral responsibility. I think there are certainly challenges operations managers in competing companies will face, as eyes will be turned toward their operations to see how they are invested in the process of gaining their feathers.

  2. Any company that decides to change the source of their raw material is sure to find challenges; however, if Northface decides to continue to down the path of only using sustainable sources, I think it would only benefit the company. Compared to Northface, Patagonia seems to have higher prices, and it may be because customers are willing to pay the premium knowing their jackets have been humanely sourced. If Northface were to continue down this path and only use humanely sourced feathers, it may strip away a vital competitive edge that Patagonia holds over them while also benefiting the environment and cutting down on inhumane treatment of animals.

  3. I think that one of the main problems North Face is going to face(no pun intended) is that because their providers of the feathers are overseas they are going to have a hard time controlling what their providers do to the birds. Even though North face will emphasize a more ethical way for providing feathers, places such as China are largely unregulated and are lagging behind the rest of the world in ethical matters. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that their is one company, Patagonia, that had been practicing a more sustainable way of collecting feathers for several years now.

  4. Very informative post. I did not know that there was such a conflict with companies using down stuffing in coats and so on. I think in a world that has trends for healthier and more ethical lifestyles this move will help North face develop their reputation. A potential problem that North face will have to face is striking a compromise with farmers that produce down. There was an article that wrote about how certain institutions helped convert poppy fields in Asia to fruit trees and sustainable agriculture. I think from this idea we can adapt a plan to help farmers to be more ethical by helping them plant crops that fit in their geographic are. This can help farmers earn more which could lead to farmers being more ethical as they will earn more money to support themselves then they can invest more in creating pain free down.

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