Lee Benson
FILE - The Kühl gang. KÜHL — headquartered in Salt Lake City — recently eliminated labels that described its down clothing items as "ethical," citing seasonal preference as the reason behind the decision-making.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah-based outdoor clothing company has removed tags from its down-filled products that tout the items as "ethically sourced," but it says the move is related to market trends and not a push by animal rights activists.

KÜHL — headquartered in Salt Lake City — recently eliminated labels that described its down clothing items as "ethical," citing seasonal preference as the reason behind the decision-making.

"As we approach the next season of production, we assess trends and conversations in the marketplace," said Melanie Webb, brand and market development for KÜHL_._ "This is a process of internal meetings that involves the design, art and marketing departments, as well as our production team."

Despite changes to the labeling, the company stated where the materials come from remained the same.

"As far as sourcing goes, we haven’t made any changes to the way we source our materials or down products," she said. "All of KÜHL’s down products are RDS-certified."

RDS, or Responsible Down Standard, is a certification companies can adhere to that "ensures that down and feathers come from ducks and geese that have been treated well. This means enabling them to live healthy lives, express innate behaviors, and not suffer from pain, fear or distress," according to the organization's website.

Webb said the company typically tries to remain open to policy shifts if they deem it necessary.

"In general, we want to be flexible and humble, always leaving ourselves room for change when we discover a better way to do something," she said. "This applies not only to the way we source our materials but even to our best-selling styles."

Meanwhile, a high-profile animal rights organization is taking credit for prompting the label change.

PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — released a statement claiming KÜHL's decision came in the wake of being informed by the advocacy group about inhumane conditions within the down industry.

"After learning from PETA about the cruelty inherent in the down industry — animals are scalded to death in defeathering tanks, often while still conscious — outerwear company KÜHL has pledged to remove all references to "ethically sourced" and "ethical" down from its website and product hangtags," a news release stated. "Despite taking this important step toward doing away with misleading labels, the company continues to sell items made with goose feathers."

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The statement noted that down-free options are currently available, including at KÜHL, which offers items made with synthetic-down technology — often made from recycled materials that insulate even when wet, unlike down. The organization added that it would continue advocating that more retailers choose nonanimal materials for their products.

"The only truly humane label is 'vegan,' so KÜHL did the right thing in agreeing not to mislead well-intentioned consumers with spurious claims of 'ethical down,'" said PETA's director of corporate affairs, Anne Brainard. "PETA will keep encouraging KÜHL and all other companies to ditch down altogether and embrace the many modern down alternatives on the market instead."