It only takes a quick glance around the library to register the preferred jacket of choice for St Andrews students. Forget the stereotypical Barbour: the popularity of the puffer jackets has been on the rise, and has recently become perhaps the most trendy outerwear option.
Whether your choice be the classic North Face, the metallic Tommy Hilfiger, or the envied Canada Goose, puffer coats are not in short supply. Other than the fact that they were an official high street trend for AW16, they are also functional, providing an insulating and often waterproof protection.
Most puffer coats, especially those on the higher end of the market, are made using down, a material coming from the layer soft feathers close to the skin of geese and ducks. Animal welfare groups have reported the cruelty in its production, where feathers are violently torn from the bodies of birds whist they are still alive. However, many companies, such as the North Face and H&M have now committed themselves to using “ethical down” and following the Responsible Down Standard. Canada Goose claims their feathers are sourced solely as a by-product of the poultry industry.
However, the lines are blurry. As a consumer it is impossible to know for certain how far down the supply chain these policies go, and we can never fully know where the materials in our clothing originally come from. “Ethical down” is what you make of it – in reality, the birds are still being killed for production in one way or another, not to mention other aspects of animal cruelty in the industry, such as the live trapping of coyotes to use their fur hoods.
The main question is, where do we draw the line? Coats made using a synthetic down substitute are available, which provide an almost equally warm insulator and do not carry the possibility of unethical production. Fashion, like any other industry, is controversial. We may often overlook it, but the clothes we wear are a conscious choice, just like the food we put in our mouths or the cosmetics we use on our skin. Aside from animal cruelty, there is a wide scope of other aspects of the fashion industry, such as working conditions and the environmental impact. With the fast pace of the market and ever changing trends, clothing has become disposable in a way that it never has been before, meaning that each choice we make is easier to be overlooked.
At the end of the day it is a personal decision. It is up to ourselves where we draw the line and up to us how big an impact be that positive or negative we want to make with our clothing choices. It is about our priorities, but if there is one thing we can all do, is to be conscientious.