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Interview with Chad Altbaier of Downlite

This month we took time out with Chad Altbaier, VP for Downlite Outdoor, a family-owned and managed company in the US, which focuses on down processing. Nikwax have partnered with Downlite for the production of Nikwax Hydrophobic Down (NHD).

Downlite have over 100 years’ experience, with knowledge of every facet of the down industry, and work with many leading brands and retailers within the outdoor industry. They are committed to sourcing down responsibly, with additional focus on using eco-friendly chemicals and being sustainable – things that Nikwax consider to be of high importance within this industry. 

Read on to learn more from Chad, who gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of Downlite, and shares how their focus on high quality production and strong ethical values are at the heart of their business.

How long have you worked in the Down industry? 
I’ve been with DOWNLITE for just shy of 17 years.  As a family business, however, I did have some exposure to the Feather & Down industry prior to that – even when I was not working for the business directly.

What lead you to work in the industry?
Who wouldn’t want to work with bi-products of waterfowl for a living?

What is Downlite’s relationship with Nikwax?
DOWNLITE is a licensee and user of the Nikwax Hydrophobic Down (NHD) PFC-free DWR product for treating down supplied to the apparel and sleeping bag industries.

How long ago did Downlite start working with Nikwax?
We had initial conversations with Nikwax approximately 5 years ago, and signed our initial supply & license agreement at the end of 2015.  We now offer NHD treated down from both our processing mill in the USA, as well as our partner facility in China.

Why did Downlite choose Nikwax to work with?
Quite simply, the NHD PFC-free DWR treatment is the best performing DWR treatment on the market.  This product performance, coupled with Nikwax’s consumer brand awareness and unmatched environmental stewardship, made the decision quite easy.

Why should customers choose Downlite products?
DOWNLITE has built its long-standing reputation on the core pillars of quality, integrity, innovation, unmatched service, and environmental stewardship.  With over 100 years of experience in down processing, and global sourcing and processing scale, we are a trusted partner in all the channels we serve – including finished filled bedding for the retail and hospitality markets, and material supply for our Outdoor division.

What are the benefits of Downlite/Hydrophobic down items (from Downlite’s perspective?)?
When down saturates, it can lose its loft, insulating value, become heavy/smelly, and generally does not perform as it should.  When a high performance DWR treatment is applied to the down, this dramatically reduces the water absorption of the down clusters – which can often occur in damp environments, or when participating in a physically demanding activity.   The Nikwax offering is the safest, highest performing PFC-free DWR treatment that we’ve tested.

What are the key principles of responsible down?
Outerwear brands looked to DOWNLITE to help collaborate on the leading down traceability certifications in the market today, and we were the world’s first RDS and TDS certified down processor.  Even before these standards were created, our proprietary down-trac™ process ensured complete traceability and the highest levels of animal welfare requirements, including strict animal husbandry criteria that must be achieved.

What should customers look out for when selecting an item made from down?
The quality of the down is critical.  This is both technically measurable – in terms of down cluster, fill power, etc – and also in terms of the supplier itself.  Consistency and integrity are critical within the supply chain, as is the environmental stewardship, experience, and scale of the organization.  Not all down and not all down suppliers are created equal.