Please see below my conversation with Gary Peterson from Western Mountaineering about new water resistant down and Pertex fabric.
There is a lot of talks about DownTek and DriDown technologies. I guess you are aware of these latest development and yet you do not jump with new products.
On the paper the technology looks impressive but real life may be different. Are you going to use dry down techniques in your future products?
There are several other name brands of what we refer to as “treated” down because they all share a similar property in that the down has been treated with some type of water repellent finish by a down processor. Each of the suppliers that currently offer a water resistant goose down to manufacturers claims to have a better product than their competitors and we accept that there are likely subtle variations in how the treatments are applied or what the chemical properties are to support a claim of any performance advantage over the other competing brands. In other words, there has been no conclusive comparison tests to really know if there is any one product that stands above the rest. Our position, however, is that we are interested in the technology but have not completed our own tests for longevity or reasonable short term performance in a broad enough range of conditions to make a decision on whether or not it is superior to the down we currently are sourcing that is not treated.
Our goose down, and all goose down really, is naturally very water resistant and it is not easy to get completely wet in any real life scenario. The marketing frenzy for this product started at one of the Outdoor Retailer trade shows with a demonstration taking place at a booth of one company that initially started selling water resistant down. They were showing people what regular “untreated” down would look like after shaking it in a water bottle vigorously for some length of time (I can’t remember how long it took but it was more than a minute of continuous shaking). Sure, eventually it became fully soaked and the once lofty clusters became limp wet lumps of plumage that had little or no lofting properties. At the same time they had a water bottle with some treated down inside shaking it for just as long to show everyone that the down still floated. It is a very compelling visual tool for selling their product but how could this situation every be replicated in the field without taking your sleeping bag, securing it to a length of webbing and suspending it into a waterfall for a couple of minutes while trying to pull it up and down or moving it from side to side while holding onto the other side of the webbing. I cannot imagine why we should purchase raw materials with those kinds of standards in mind, but even if we did the fact remains that this is relatively new technology which hasn’t been thoroughly tested from our point of view. We design our sleeping bags to last in the range of 25 to 40 years or perhaps longer if cared for properly and average amount of use (i.e. not a guide who may spend 200 nights a year in a sleeping bag, but normal people with careers and families who go out on many weekend camping trips and take two or three backpacking trips in a year). With any new technology we want to make sure it will stand the test of time before using it to manufacture our sleeping bags.
At the moment we have several jackets being tested and one sleeping bag. These items are designed to expose exactly how much and what types of performance differences there might be between untreated and treated down from the same batch of raw material. The jackets are split in the middle with one side filled with treated down while the other is filled with untreated down that was sent to us by the same supplier & indicated to be from the same batch of down as the treated side (a portion of the down was pulled out of the batch right before the rest of it was processed with the water repellent finish). The sleeping bag has alternate chambers filled with treated and untreated down. After a year or so of heavy use we will have a better idea about the performance and longevity characteristics of treated down compared to the same down that was left untreated. At that point, we will determine whether or not it is a technology that we wish to embrace.
As for the number of brands already using it, I can only say that many brands are probably not building their products to last 30 years and they are more concerned about profiting while the buzz is strong among consumers (i.e. many brands are capitalizing on the hype with a “Strike while the iron is hot” strategy). We don’t agree with that approach because it seems irresponsible to use customers as a means to field testing new technologies.
Couple of years ago you told me that you are considering to use Pertex fabric in you products - Did you decide not to?
Before we started using Pertex Quantum many years ago I was working closely with Perserverance Mills during their development stages, providing them with insight for making a better constructed lightweight ripstop that would be ideal for down products.
Since the brand name was purchased and re-introduced by the Japanese textile company, Mitsui, we have not purchased any of the Pertex branded fabrics because they were quite different from the original materials we sourced from England.
They do make nice materials but many of the materials are too narrow for our production needs. I look at their fabrics at the trade shows and will be happy to use their materials if the construction properties meet our needs.
I absolutely agree with your cautious.
Just to add one more concern: even if using chemical gives down nice water repellent features - the same chemicals over time may lead to some nasty health hazard.
As example: lexan for years was positioned as great material for backpackers: light, tough, etc. Then it suddenly became clear that Lexan (which is about 100% BPA built) is problematic material to say least.
Do you have a plan to address this issue?
I am also concerned about the level of chemicals used in our industry and we have been pushing for known carcinogens to be eliminated from DWR finishes, for example. The materials we purchase are not finished with chemicals that are on the list of known carcinogens or any that are listed on EPA’s “POP” list (Persistent Organic Pollutants).
I’m not sure about the health hazard of the water resistant “treated” goose down because the suppliers have been somewhat careful about discussing the exact chemical “recipe” they use, claiming that both the “formula” they use and the way it is applied are what makes their product better than other competing water resistant down products on the market. In terms of a plan we have to address these issue, we don’t have a formal policy or plan that outlines any specific course of action for tracking or reducing the environmental impact of chemicals used in our supply chain. However I make a point to research our raw materials as much as possible and personally visit our suppliers regularly (sometimes unannounced) to inspect the factories, facilities, farms or processing plants throughout the supply chain to make sure that our materials are produced in a way that is ethically responsible and with the least environmental impact possible. I am by no means an expert on the ins and outs of every raw material we use, but I have made a conscious effort to gather as much information as possible by visiting weaving mills, dyeing houses, finishing plants, down processing facilities, goose farms, etc. In fact, many of the textile sales agents who I purchase fabrics from have never taken a trip visit the weaving mills which make the fabric that they are selling. I have been to Japan four times in the past 12 years to visit multiple textile processing facilities, was in England at the Perserverance Mills factory when they were producing our Quantum ripstop fabric many years ago, and have been to Poland a couple of times to inspect the goose farms and processing facilities for our insulation. Both the owner of our company and I have had numerous meetings with IDFL in Salt Lake City (International Down and Feathers Laboratory) to learn about the various grades of down and discuss the changes that have taken place over the years for Fill Power testing standards.
I am proud of all aspects of our brand from the sourcing through the manufacturing processes and we are committed to making improvements as we learn of new issues, technologies or advances in sustainable resources.
Why don't you use you experience and quality down sources and enter market of super light down duvet for inside use?
I have one custom made for me 3 years ago by one of the cottage manufactures with 900FP down and it is absolutely wonderful.
It is baffled one which allows me to shift down from one side to side in order to create proper micro climate for us the distribution 65%-35% is about right.
And it saves money as we stopped to heat the house at night. The only problem with it that it is very hard to get out ;_)
We have thought of this and been recommended the idea from multiple sources. I have been working on some prototypes and we may introduce something like this in the next couple of years but our company is small and slow to bring new products to market.