ReDown Proves That Circularity in the Textile Industry Can Be a Reality
Winter is coming (sorry, but it is!), and living up North this calls for protective layers that keep you warm through the snow and cold. Even though we’ve still got a few months before the worst of it hits us, it’s not too early for mindful wardrobe planning. Maybe you need a new jacket, and maybe you’re thinking down. Probably. But as you’re soon to learn: any down won’t do.
In 2016, Eric Firmann and Tae Hwang founded Re:Down – a company based in Hungary that recycles down and feathers from post consumer goods to be reused as filling material in new products, like your next winter jacket. With 20 plus years of experience from the textile industry respectively, they’ve both seen the enormous amounts of waste it generates first hand. This led them to start Re:Down, wanting to offer an upcycling solution that saves a part of the post consumer products from ending up in landfills. On August 29, they’re coming to the Stockholm Preview textile fair to participate in a conversation on circularity together with Texaid and FluidSolids.
“At Re:Down, we recycle down and feathers extracted from used products so they can be reused as filling material in apparel, bedding products or sleeping bag,” Eric tells us. “With the broken feathers that can’t be reused, we make a very efficient fertilizer. Our target: zero waste!”
“Down is an amazing 100% natural product with excellent insulation properties. Used as filling material in jackets or duvets it provides the best warmth per weight ratio; no synthetic material can offer the same softness, packability and thermal properties as natural down. Next to those technical advantages, down is recyclable and biodegradable, and though it seems fragile, it’s actually very durable.”
However, mass consumption has made it a fragile resource, and there is definitely a big and important ethical aspect to consider. “The main issue that the virgin down industry has tried to work on over the past few years is the animal conditions. Several reports have shown awful pictures of force fed or live plucked birds, which is why down and feathers coming from non-ethical sources are now banned from most international brands. The industry itself has introduced strict standards as well, and controls the practices all along the supply chain.”
“Next to this, virgin down remains a natural byproduct from the food industry with a fluctuating supply. When a bird flew breaks out, there will be no down available and the prices fluctuate accordingly. Re:Down is not a competition to virgin down, but a complementary solution. We need good virgin down so that we can recycle it after its life cycle.”
What does the process of recycling down look like; how is it done?
– First step is the collection: we collect post consumer goods filled with down and feathers from all over Europe. The down and feathers are then extracted and classified into quality categories. Finally they are washed and sterilized so that they can be reused without any sanitary concerns. Re:Down reaches the highest cleanliness standard for down and feathers, and can even be claimed “hypoallergenic”.
– The whole cleaning process is done with warm thermal water and natural soap. The used water is purified in our own water recycling plant before being sent back to Earth. The sterilization happens through high temperature only without any chemicals and around 30% of the energy used in the factory is produced by solar panels.
In what ways do you consider sustainability and ethicality in your overall business?
– The story of Re:Down itself is based on sustainability; sustainability and ethicality are our fundaments. Next to the fact that we recycle post consumer goods that would end up in landfills, we put a lot of effort into making our recycling process as sustainable as possible. Our whole supply chain is traceable and certified by the Global Recycled Standard (GRS).
– From an ethical point of view, a large part of our raw material comes from European collectors that share their profits with charity organisations. Old duvets, pillows or sleeping bags cannot be donated to homeless people for sanitary reasons, so when we buy those products from the collectors, part of the money goes to charities.
What are the things we as consumers should consider before buying a new down product?
– Look for the Re:Down hangtag – a lot of fashion and outdoor brands are using our down, as well as more and more bedding brands. But if you don’t find the jacket of your dreams filled with Re:Down, you should at least check if the virgin down that it contains is ethically sourced. The Responsible Down Standard (RDS) is the most adopted standard and guarantees a good traceability for virgin down.
– You should also make sure that the down has been well washed in order to avoid unpleasant smell when the weather turns humid. Some brands are giving detailed information about their down sources and quality, so choose one of those. And finally, stay away from too cheap bargains. Down needs to be treated with care, and quality has its cost. Think long term: a nice down product will last forever if you take good care of it. And then we will recycle it!
What can you tell us about your collaboration with Texaid and FluidSolids, and your upcoming talk in Stockholm?
– We are very proud and happy to present Re:Down more in detail during the Stockholm Preview, and to bring two of our main partners to the table. Texaid is a Swiss company and one of the world leaders in textile waste management. They collect worldwide and have very modern, automatic sorting facilities. Texaid is one of our main suppliers and is 50% owned by charities. In 2018, they generated 11 mio CHF that went towards the support of charity actions and social projects.
– FluidSolids is a Swiss company as well, and at the other end of our supply chain. In fact, FluidSolids produce bio-composites made out of all types of organic waste, and among other things they use Re:Down feather and down waste. The plastic alternatives they offer is 100% biodegradable in any household compost within a few months. Together we want to show the textile industry that circularity is possible today. We won’t talk about projects nor future dreams, but about existing solutions to the upcycling of textile waste, and to change waste into value.
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