The Value of Clothes | Paul Castro

This week we have another Guest Blog from TFIA Member Paul Castro on The Value of Clothes:

Imagine a world where clothes are considered so valuable they form part of peoples’ wills and are handed down from generation to generation. Or a world where clothes are routinely stolen from laundries! This was the situation 300-400 years ago.

Clothes and textiles used to be worth a lot. Before the Industrial Revolution, "garments and textiles were an investment and carried such great value that they were used as barter." claims Professor Joan Farrer [1].

The high value of clothes arose from the dependence on natural fibres and the time-consuming process of producing textiles with rudimentary tools.

But, by the beginning of the 19th century, things started changing. Cloth was being produced mechanically, thus reducing the price. Later on, human-made fibres were introduced. Clothes got even cheaper.


Fast-forward to today. We are spoilt for choice of colours, fabrics, prints and styles. Prices have never been lower. Women’s garments are the cheapest in 25 years [2]. And we are producing huge amounts of clothes. According to the FAO/ ICAC, 70 million tonnes of new garments (or a staggering 80 billion garments) are produced each year globally [3]!

Clothes have lost their value. They have become disposable commodities that are often used just once or twice and then thrown away. And this is having hidden, negative consequences. In the UK, for example, nearly one third of discarded clothing ends up in landfill [4].

3% mountain

So what is the situation here in Australia?

Well, according to the TFIA, Australians throw away $500 million worth of clothing every year [5]. Australia ranks third in the developed world in terms of producing landfill waste, on a per capita basis [6]. And a whopping 4% of this landfill consists of textile waste, which the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia estimates is the fastest-growing component. The fashion industry is attempting to deal with this, albeit at a glacial rate.


One new, interesting response to this problem is the idea of ‘natural capital accounting’ [7]. Natural capital includes all the environmental resources we use in the production of goods and services. It includes minerals, water, land but also a stable climate and clean air. These are usually freely provided by the planet to business. But putting a monetary cost to these resources allows decision makers to take them into account.

‘Demand for water is predicted to exceed supply by 40% over the coming 10-15 years. Business as usual is broken. We need to revolutionise our approach to design and production, decoupling growth from environmental impact. The time to do that is now.’ says Richard Mattison, CEO of Truecost. [8]

These and other moves will, perhaps, help us to discover a new way of giving value back to our clothes.

Paul Castro

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[1] Farrer, J. 2011, ‘Remediation: Discussing Fashion Textiles Sustainability’, in A Gwilt & T Rissanen (eds), Shaping Sustainable Fashion, 1st edn. London: Earthscan.Burlington, MA, pp. 183-206

[2] Kohler A. 2013, financial commentator (

[3] Milburn, J. 2015, ‘Making a material difference’, Journal of the HEIA, Vol. 22, No. 1.

[4] Waste & Resources Action Programme, 2011 (

[5] TFIA Media Release, 30 September 2013.

[6] OECD (

[7] Jackson, J. 2014, ‘Assessing the Environmental Impact of the Fashion World”, Environmental Leader.

[8] Jackson, J. 2014, ‘Assessing the Environmental Impact of the Fashion World”, Environmental Leader.