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Duck down prices quack under pressure

Bench coats are getting more expensive as Chinese demand soars
June 09,2018
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Next winter, don’t be surprised if “long padding” prices are through the roof.

Growing Chinese demand for outerwear is causing duck down prices to soar, and Korean manufacturers of bench coats are already facing the consequences.

Despite the summer heat, businesses in the outdoor and fashion industry started taking pre-orders for bench coats from this month. Makers of the heavy coats, which benched athletes often wear while sitting on the sidelines, hope to ride high on last winter’s “long padding” craze, when millions of coats were sold in Korea.

But the rising price of duck and goose down is hurting coat manufacturers’ profits and threatening to leave them without a secure source of feathers to stuff their coats with.

According to Pan-Pacific, a major domestic supplier of down filling, the price of fine feathers rose 50 percent year-on-year last month. About 80 percent of the world’s down production comes from China, according to a Pan-Pacific spokesman.

Chinese site cn-down.com, which provides data on down feathers, clearly showed that prices in China were rising. On May 20, 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of white duck filling made of 95 percent down and 5 percent exterior feathers was on sale for 448 Chinese yuan ($70.16). This was a 38 percent jump since last year, when the same filling cost 323 yuan. Duck filling with an 80/20 down to feather ratio, the most popular ratio for bench coats, increased 42 percent to 353 yuan from 248 yuan year-on-year.

The situation with goose down was no different. Goose filling with a 95/5 down to feather ratio, priced at 475 Chinese yuan per kilogram a year ago, costs 545 Chinese yuan as of June 8.

The fast-growing Chinese outdoor clothing market is helping to bring prices up.

The bench coat has established itself as a fashionable item, and more Chinese consumers are able to afford them. The size of China’s outdoor clothing market was valued at 20 billion yuan ($3.13 billion) in 2014, a 10-fold increase compared to eight years ago.

The Chinese government previously announced plans to grow its sports and outdoor clothing market up to 5 trillion yuan by 2025.

Increased animal-friendliness from down manufacturers is also hurting supply, as fewer birds are getting their feathers plucked alive.

Many fashion brands now pride themselves in using feathers from farms certified with the Responsible Down Standard (RDS). This certification is issued by the Textile Exchange, a U.S. non-profit company that promotes textile sustainability. Farms that do not force-feed ducks and geese or pluck their feathers before they are slaughtered for food consumption are eligible for the certification.

Given the rising prices of down, businesses are now struggling to determine how much of the rise in raw material costs they should reflect in coats’ final price tags.

“The price of 80/20 down nearly doubled since last year,” said Nepa CEO Lee Sun-hyo. “We are looking for ways to absorb the rise in raw material prices ourselves for now. We expect operating profits to fall this year.”

“Though we are manufacturing with the supply of down feathers that we had previously secured, the price of down jackets are expected to rise by 5 to 10 percent,” said Jang Wook-jin, a manager of product planning at K2.

Most major brands that manufacture over 500,000 bench coats a year have already secured down sources, but smaller businesses are struggling to find replacement contractors. Some feather suppliers, unable to secure their own supply of down feathers, have stopped selling feathers to bench coat manufacturers altogether.

Other smaller bench coat makers, including women’s clothing and other sportswear brands, are now looking to down alternatives like PrimaLoft to fill their coats. PrimaLoft is a brand of synthetic microfiber thermal insulation developed for the U.S. Army in the 1980s. Although it isn’t cheap, the material is lighter than natural down feathers, good for activewear and protects against humidity.

Other alternatives include a mixture of synthetic materials with natural bird feathers.

Despite the rising cost of raw materials, major outdoor clothing brands are planning to sell more bench coats this year, as they expect their popularity from last winter to carry into this year.

Discovery Expedition, which sold around 600,000 bench coats last year, plans to manufacture 700,000 this year.

“We have already requested four of our suppliers increase the quantity of down this year,” said a Discovery spokesman.

Other major brands also plan to produce 50,000 to 100,000 more bench coats this year.


BY KIM YOUNG-JU [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]