- Eiderdown is one of the warmest natural fibres in the world, but harvesting this product isn’t easy.
- Farmers have to find and harvest each nest by hand.
- Up to 80% of the weight of the harvest is made up of sticks, seaweed, or larger feathers.
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Following is a transcript of the video:
Narrator: Real eiderdown is one of the warmest natural fibers you can find, but it doesn’t come cheap. And an eiderdown double duvet could cost you over $8,000. Harvested from the nest of eider ducks found wild in Iceland, collecting a kilo of this fluffy material isn’t easy, and only 4 metric tons are produced worldwide each year. So what makes eiderdown so expensive?
Eiderdown is the soft under feathers of the common eider, used to protect it from arctic conditions and freezing cold seas. During the breeding season, this down naturally sheds, and the female ducks use it to build their nest. This is where the eiderdown collectors come in.
Eiderdown farmers across Iceland will harvest this down either by taking small amounts from each nest or waiting for the birds to disappear completely before collecting.
Erla Friðriksdóttir: The eiderdown is a natural product, and when the eider duck leaves the nest, they leave the down, and so if we would not take the down, it would just blow away and be useless.
Narrator: While this product is natural and ethically harvested, it’s not particularly practical to source. Farmers have to find and collect every nest by hand, and each one contains just 15 grams of down.
Friðriksdóttir: We have 240 islands in Breiðafjörður, and the islands that the eider duck nests are in are 150, and we have to go between all the islands by small boats. The nests are not very close to each other, so we have to walk around all the islands to find the nests. And it can be difficult to find the nest.
It’s sometimes hidden between rocks or high grass or high plants, and we have to look very carefully to find all the nests, and I’m sure we do not find all of them.
Narrator: But once the down is harvested, the work has only just begun. Up to 80% of the weight of the harvest is made up of sticks, seaweed, or larger feathers, and all of this needs to be removed. The eiderdown is first moved to an oven and baked at 120 degrees Celsius for at least eight hours, drawing out any of the unwanted debris and making it easier to sort.
Then it goes through multiple specially made machines, each one sorting more and more pieces from the down. A larger spinning machine separates the outer feathers, but the only way to make sure every single one of these feathers is removed is by hand.
Friðriksdóttir: After cleaning eiderdown in the machines, we have to clean the eiderdown by hand, and it takes about four or five hours for experienced person to pick 1 kilo.
Narrator: Once every feather has been laboriously removed by hand, the down is ready to be washed, pressed, and dried one final time. For the few that can afford it, the final eiderdown is worth the work. Compared to other goose or duck down, eiderdown is denser, stronger, and more insulating. Small barbs in the individual eiderdown plumes trap the air and make it more wind resistant, too.
The majority of the eiderdown that King Eider produces is sold as is for companies to use in their products, but it also sells its own pillows and duvets. Eider ducks are strictly protected in Iceland. It’s illegal to hunt them or to sell their eggs, and the final down is closely monitored too.
Friðriksdóttir: 1970, there were laws in Iceland that we must certify all eiderdown that is sold, and also when we are making some products, like duvets or pillows or some garments, we must book a time with the inspector, and he must check the quality and the weight before we fill the product.
Narrator: This rigorous system means that every single eiderdown product in Iceland has been checked by an inspector. Other countries have their own certification systems, but Iceland produces about 80% of the world’s eiderdown.
Unlike industrially farmed down, which is often a byproduct of the meat industry and one that can often involve battery farming and live plucking of geese, all of the eider ducks are kept wild. And while the process itself is labor intensive, a large part of the job of farmers is keeping the ducks safe.
Friðriksdóttir: The first step is protecting the area for the eider ducks and trying to attract the eider ducks to the areas. There are predators like fox and minks and also gulls and ravens, and the farmers try to keep the predators away. Some of the farmers make some fences, and some farmers use some bright colors or maybe noises to keep the predators away, so it’s lot of work to watch the area.
Narrator: Get all of this right, though, and the end result is one of the warmest natural fibers on the planet.