The Ultimate Challenge

Amena Schlaikjer isn't your average fashionista. Inspired by a desire to simplify her life, this Shanghai-based innovation specialist decided to do something very innovative indeed. She basically threw away her entire wardrobe and is living for 12 whole months in just 10 pieces of clothing – all the while maintaining her sense of style.

These 10 pieces make up a collection from a clothing line by Malaysian/Chinese collective We Are Ultra. Dubbed the 'Ultra 10', they are essentially the antithesis of today's 'fast fashion' world, where items are made quickly and cheaply only to be discarded with the changing of the season.

Anita Hawkins is one of the founders of the We Are Ultra collective. When Schlaikjer approached her with the idea for what they now call the 'Ultra 10 Challenge', Hawkins was inspired by the concept. She and her designers worked for months to come up with the perfect combination of fashion-forward pieces in neutral colours to take someone through a year of their life. As if the concept wasn't sustainable enough, they also used recycled and organic materials to make the collection.

“We tried to make pieces that were interchangeable and modular so, for example this [pointing to the blazer Amena is wearing] is also a dress. There's actually a skirt that she's zipped off today. There's also pieces where you can unzip the sleeves, for example, just to give you a little bit more wearability to take you though different situations,” Hawkins adds.

As the founder of a company devoted to the concept of wellness and someone who promotes the idea of de-cluttering in order to de-stress, Schlaikjer was the perfect candidate to take on the Ultra 10 challenge, but even she had some doubts.

“The only reservations I have now are about the temperature in Shanghai. It's really hot in summer and cold in winter, so it's easy now, but when we roll into November and December it might be tougher,” she says.

A few weeks into the challenge, it's obvious that Schlaikjer is feeling good about her decision to drastically downsize her wardrobe, though she says the most common reaction she gets from other women when she tells them about it is “absolute horror”.

“People say things like, 'Oh my god, you're crazy!’ Or, ‘I could never do that. It must be so hard.’ Or they might say, 'I'd love to try, but I don't think I could.' It's almost like this is a fad diet or something, some extreme fast that people don't think they can handle,” Schlaikjer explains.

But the great thing about living with limited, high quality and beautiful possessions, according to this statuesque beauty, is the freeing effect it can have, not only on your physical space, but also for your psychological and spiritual being.

“I feel like a burden's been lifted,” Schlaikjer says. “For people like us who travel a lot, you want to be more compact. I feel like a ninja now.”

The Ultra 10 collection is now available for sale online, with all 10 pieces priced together at US$995. Although you can also buy individual pieces from the collection, Hawkins says they want to encourage people to buy it in its entirety.

“The whole idea is to take it away and use it as it was designed,” she says. “That's why you will pay less than half the retail price when you buy the whole collection.”

Whatever else comes of the Ultra10 Challenge, both Schlaikjer and Hawkins hope others might be inspired by their example to take up the cause of conscious consumerism.

“It's really not only good for the planet, it's good for your soul,” Schleaikjer says. “The less clutter you have in your life, the less stress you have, the better it is for you. And it's really not that hard.”


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