Bison fiber is an ethical alternative to down and more environmentally friendly than polyester.
Up until recently, the world of winter jackets has been divided into two categories. There are the ones with down insulation and the ones with synthetic insulation. Each has its pros and cons, from both a technical and ethical perspective; but now there's another option on the scene, a curious new offering from American clothing company United By Blue.
The Bison Puffer Jacket and Vest, which just launched last month, uses half-bison fiber, half-polyester fill to keep the wearer warm. Over the past five years, United By Blue has been working to create 190 gsm B100™, a sustainable alternative to down or all-synthetic insulation. From a press release,
"B100™ is naturally temperature regulating, hypoallergenic, and lightweight. It is quilted into baffles that will keep its shape and won’t settle over time while providing a level of flexibility for a variety of activities."
The idea of using bison fiber makes a lot of sense. It comes from huge animals that manage to stay warm during bitterly cold prairie winters, thanks to their thick coats. As United by Blue explains,
"The American bison’s shaggy coat consists of a layer of hollow, compactable, resilient hairs that allow them to keep warm and dry in the harshest winter climates."
Bison fiber is an animal product, but it is arguably a more ethical form of insulation than down, which relies on controversial live-plucking practices (unless it's recycled down). Bison fiber is a byproduct of the ranching industry and typically goes to waste, so its use does not contribute to the deaths of any more animals.
Why not use all-synthetic, you may wonder? It's not as warm – not when you're talking about real northern winter temperatures. Where I live in Ontario, Canada, the daytime temperature regularly drops to -30C (-22F) throughout January and February. No synthetic jacket I've ever tried can cut it in weather like that; and if you contest that, I urge you to give it a try for an extended period of time!
There are growing environmental concerns, too, about petroleum-based materials shedding microplastics. The fewer synthetics we put on our bodies, the better. The bison puffer jacket strives to make the best of the situation by blending bison fiber with polyester for a lightweight, yet seriously cozy result that is rated down to -17C (0F).
Regardless of your personal view on animal-based insulation and synthetic alternatives, I think it's exciting to see companies experimenting with new ways of keeping people warm in winter that go beyond down, whether it's bison, yak wool, goat hair, silk, or milkweed. I suspect we'll be see a lot more innovation in this field in coming years.
United By Blue is a great company to support, as it pledges to remove one pound of trash from American waterways for every item sold - and actually does it. To date, it has collected nearly 1,500,000 pounds of plastic bottles, styrofoam, tires, old appliances, and more, relying on staff and volunteers who participate in nation-wide cleanups.
Bison Puffer Vests start at $188 and jackets at $228. Both come in male and female styles. Check out the website for more details.