On the quest for an eco-friendly winter jacket | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 28.12.2018
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On the quest for an eco-friendly winter jacket

How hard can it be to find an environmentally-friendly coat? With freezing temperatures and the possibility of snow, Cai Nebe of South Africa sets off on the search for the perfect winter coat.

I've not been in Germany for long, but pretty much as soon as I got here, Game of Thrones fans were telling me: "Brace yourself. Winter is coming."

Being from Cape Town, South Africa, where 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) is considered cold, I figure it makes sense to invest in some seasonally appropriate clothing, not least a jacket thick enough to fend off the worst of the country's winter. 

So I fired up my laptop and began the search. The first coat I was offered was called the "Triple F.A.T. Goose Logan Jacket". But, oof! At €213 ($250), it's a bit out of my league. Then, on another site, I see a goose down coat for just €10.

Since goose down seems popular, I searched for more information.  

Oh. My. Word. Interspersed with images of white, cloud-like quilts and pillows are photos of standing, but bloodied and featherless geese. And a video published by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) shows a man live plucking a screeching bird — a common practice that means producers can let them grow back before pulling them out again. 

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A duck being live plucked (photo: PETA Asia)

Plucking downfeathers from live geese and ducks is very painful for the animal

Okay, time to reassess. There must be something as warm as goose down but less cruel. I close the tabs with the plucked birds and search for "alternatives to down jackets".

Read moreNo-kill chicken eggs go on sale in Germany

"Don't pluck that duck — alternatives to down" sounds more like it. But polyester… ugh. Wool? I've been on a farm, and seen sheep suffer, so that's another no. Air?! Apparently you wear a lightly inflated bladder disguised as a jacket that uses your body heat to warm… your body? Bladder clothing doesn't grab me, so that's out too.  

Icelandic tradition

I need inspiration from somewhere really cold. And where better than Iceland? It's all in the name really. They, of all people, must know how to keep warm. The question is, how do they do it?

Cai Nebe shivers by the river bank (photo: DW)

Cai Nebe is looking for an eco-friendly winter jacket, so he doesn't have to freeze in Bonn

With the help of eider ducks that produce a down, Icelanders harvest the birds' feathers by standing next to their nests and waiting for them to step out so they can gather up the fluffy filling. A quick search and a phone call later, I'm speaking to Gudrun Gauksdottir, the head of the Iceland Eider Farmers Association.

"All the eider ducks are wild and have been protected under Icelandic law since 1847," she tells me.

I'm glad to hear they're not plucked, caged or battery farmed, and I'm impressed by what Gauksdottir describes as the "special relationship" Icelandic farmers have had with their birds since Viking times. 

There are about 400 active eider farmers in Iceland, and according to Jon Sveinsson, whose Eiderdown company makes down duvets and pillows, they're quite protective of their flocks. 

"They watch over the ducks' nests, sometimes through the night, and shoo off minks, foxes, ravens and seagulls," he says.

Read moreThe hidden human cost of fast fashion

And their work is labor-intensive. Collecting just one kilogram of eiderdown can take a skilled worker almost half a day, and that's before the cleaning process starts.

That said, just 60 grams of down feathers is enough for one eiderdown jacket.

Eiderdaunen (photo: Imago/PEMAX)

The super expensive eider down feathers. But you don't need many: just 60 grams for a jacket

Out of my league

Sveinsson actually received an order for two kilograms (nearly four and a half pounds) of the fluffy filling from a Moscow-based company wanting to make a jacket for the "Number One Face of Russia." That could only mean President Vladimir Putin.

If it's warm enough for Russia, it should be warm enough for Bonn. So, how much for one?

"Five thousand euros," says Elin Logadottir, sales director at 66° North, an outdoor clothing company based in Iceland.

Now that's really out of my league.

Read moreIn search of eco-friendly fashion

"And once we know your size and the color you want, it will take four to six months due to the short supply of eiderdown," she adds. Because as it turns out, Iceland produces a grand total of just three to four tons of eiderdown a year.

Four to six months? By then, it will be springtime. For now though, it's winter in Bonn, and I still don't have a new coat.

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