Winter is approaching once again, and the naked human needs to start thinking about how to stay warm when the cold creeps in. Icelandic farmers have long since expanded from their beloved sheep in finding ways to do so, the ones fortunate enough to have the friendly eider duck nesting on their land have forged a lasting and collaborative relationship with the common eider, whose down has been known for centuries as the greatest natural insulator.
The common eider is a peaceful and tame sea duck with a habitat on the northern coasts of Europe, in North America and eastern Siberia. It breeds in the Arctic where it forms large flocks on coastal waters. Icelandic farmers have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the bird. The eider’s nest is built close to the sea, and the farmers watch carefully for the colonies that choose their coastal land to nest. They line their nests with eiderdown, plucked by the female from her own breast. This incredible lining has been harvested carefully for filling pillows and comforters for generations, and the mama duck, in turn, gets protection and care from the farmer. The farmers are careful to leave enough down for the duck to keep her eggs warm, and she will instinctively and slowly pluck more each time the down is harvested over the summer. The Eiderdown duvet is a rarity in itself. Each year roughly 3500 kg of Eiderdown is produced worldwide; of that, over 3000 kg originates from Iceland. Roughly 1,2 kg of down is used in each Eiderdown duvet, making the total global production of, Eiderdown duvets approximately 3000 duvets.
Consumer awareness is key
“Sadly, people are buying fake products, or at best, eiderdown mixed with other types of down, lessening the natural quality of the eiderdown. A duvet filled with pure eiderdown is a rarity. There is a limited natural supply of this eco-sustainable commodity.” comments Mr Hilmar Kristinsson, a 28th generation Skarð inhabitant and founding partner of Royal Eiderdown.
The eiderdown duvet is genuinely fit for a king due to its performance and rarity. Consumers looking to find the real thing need to look for origin verification. The global harvest of cleaned eiderdown is roughly four tons and can fit on one small truck. This is in high contrast to the annual goose-down harvest that is counted in the tens of thousands of tons. Japan alone imported 6.000t of goose down in 2010. In 2009, official records in Japan showed sales of eiderdown duvets were over 20t, a stark contrast to the actual average yearly eiderdown supply worldwide. The two main countries producing handpicked eiderdown are Canada (10-15%) and Iceland (85-90%) – Icelandic eiderdown accounts for ca. 85% of global supply. The eiderdown supply is naturally limited and if anything dwindling.
A foul truth behind the common down in pillows and comforters
Even what is considered the highest grade of down, used to make comfortable and costly bedding, often involves a practice called live-plucking. Sadly a percentage of the world’s supply of down feathers has been plucked from live birds, a practice which is condemned as extremely cruel by animal welfare groups. The precise percentage of down harvested in this manner is uncertain; some references report that it’s only a small fraction while others state that it’s an industry and as much as 50-80% of the market is intact optioned in this cruel manner.
Picture and resources from Royal Eiderdown