2005-12-01 / Columns

Read Labels When Buying Down-Filled Items

Winter is approaching, and with it will be cold weather. It also signals a rush by outdoor people to go shopping for warm, down-filled clothing and sleeping bags. The idea is to keep warmth without heavy, bulky insulation.

As is the case with a lot of things, the best usually costs more, but is worth it. So when you find something advertised as “down-filled,” what is it? Obviously, it involves feathers, but which kind?

When buying down-filled anything, you’re in a recycling mode which was started by birds. Feathers served their former owners quite well and, if you’re a careful shopper, they can do the same for you. Trouble is, there are literally dozens of styles, sizes, and fillings available when buying down-filled products.

The Federal Trade Commission can be a big help to you, if you take the time to read labels. They require an explanation of the exact contents of any down-filled items. These are the standard for use in the feather and down products industry:

1. Down fiber: The barbs of down plumes separated from the quill points.

2. Waterfowl feathers: Goose feathers, duck feathers, or any mixture of goose and duck feathers.

3. Feathers (or natural feathers): Bird or fowl plumage having quill shafts and barbs, which have not been processed in any manner other than by washing, dusting, and sterilizing.

4. Quill feathers: Feathers which have been processed by a crushing or curling machine which has changed the original shape of the feathers without removing the quill.

5. Stripped feathers: The barbs of feathers stripped from the quill shaft but not separated into feather fiber.

6. Feather fiber: The barbs of feathers which have been completely separated from the quill shaft and any aftershaft, which are in one way joined or attached to each other.

7. Chopped feathers: Feathers which have been subjected to a chopping or cutting process and have been cut into pieces.

By law, a label must be attached specifying the contents. If a mixture of goose down and waterfowl feathers is used, the label must contain the percentages of each. But, trade rules allow up to 15 percent by weight of some substance other than advertised.

A “down-filled” item may contain 100 percent of the finest virgin goose down or it may have 85 percent duck down and 15 percent of any of the cheaper fillings. If advertised at 100 percent goose-down-filled, that’s what you get. It will cost more, but you’ll expect down to be up.

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