It all began in 1993, according to Modern Farmer, when USDA researcher Walter Schmidt decided to turn chicken feathers into... something useful. That thing, whatever it was, would remain TBD. They fried it (which apparently tasted a lot like pork rinds). They made it into paper (which turned out textured and tissue-like).
The latest idea is plastics. Not unlike our hair and nails, chicken feathers are mostly a strong protein called keratin. The feathers can be heated, mixed with other materials, and molded into plastic. And, as we in the 21st century know, plastics can be used to make pretty much everything, from shoes to wall insulation to circuit boards to furniture. But chicken feathers could even show up in a few more unexpected places.
Like powder makeup:
There are lots more chicken feather ideas in the works, from oil spill cleanup to hurricane-proof roofing. In fact, Schmidt, the chicken feather evangelist, likes to speculate about the day when chicken feathers become so useful that meat is a mere byproduct of feather production. More here.