by Stella Hughes
4 min
Nicole McLaughlin ©

You’ve probably seen Nicole McLaughlin’s work before – a playful mash-up of our favourite brands and objects, reimagined into high-fashion, high-function pieces. The New York-based designer’s work is as technical as it is shareable, and we were intrigued to find out more about the designer and creative.

Relatively new to the scene, Nicole’s hobby was able to evolve into a career by 2018, and she now makes pieces that primarily aim to consider and explore upcycling and sustainable fashion. From volleyball-slippers to an Arc’teryx bikini, Nicole’s ability to transform familiar emblems into new functions allows her to highlight the message of sustainability, as well as shed new light on the functionality and wearability of ‘waste’ materials.

Workshops are also a significant focus of her work. Operating globally, Nicole sets out to equip the younger generation with advice, knowledge, but perhaps most importantly, resources – without piling on the pressure. We caught up with Nicole to discuss all these topics and more. 

Nicole McLaughlin ©

Hey Nicole – Hope you’re well! Your bio describes your journey as evolving from a hobby into a career – can you talk us through how you got started in designing?
I used to work in the sportswear industry, and during that time, I started experimenting with making. As I’m not trained in design, it was a lot of trial and error and exploring, really pushing myself, which has evolved into what it is now. 

By taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to designing, you reached massive audiences and built a dedicated following. How would you say this has impacted your career progression?
The goal when I started wasn’t about amassing a large following, but to share my work. To have it be received so openly is something I will always be grateful for. And yes, it has impacted my opportunities and given me the opportunity to not only share upcycling with the world, but make a living from it as well.

Nicole McLaughlin ©

Sustainability and upcycling are also at the core of your work. How do these considerations impact your creative process?
Sustainability and upcycling are centred in my work, so my creative process is all about focusing on these things and highlighting ways to utilize them in a new light. 

How did you discover your playful approach – was it born from playing around with brands you already loved, or something else entirely?
I’m always trying to keep that childlike sense of wonder and the playfulness you see is true to who I am, and the things I like. The materials also provide a sense of familiarity. I just added a new perspective. 

Nicole McLaughlin ©

Your pieces possess a tension between being complex and intricate designs while still being functional and wearable. Can you talk a little more about this concern?
I don’t see it as a concern. If people could wear suits of armor in the Middle Ages, I don’t think a mini skirt made from cleats is that big of an issue. 

You are Arc’teryx’s first ever design ambassador – congrats! Can you talk a bit about how this came to be, and your role?
Thank you! Someone saw one of my Arc’teryx pieces online and forwarded it to their friend at Arc’teryx and that’s how it all started. I’m still pinching myself. My role is to work with Arc’teryx and their amazing team to support their sustainable initiatives and also find new ways to approach waste and how to limit it through design.

Nicole McLaughlin ©

Your work has gone viral a number of times for its ingenuity as well as subversion of recognisable, nostalgic brands. Do you have a favourite piece that you keep coming back to?
My favorite piece is still an early one, the volleyball shoe. 

You’re also doing important work in connecting young people to much-needed design resources. Can you reveal more about this project, it’s motivations and what we can expect from it?
People are always looking to the younger generation to be our future leaders. However, it’s not just about saying, “Look to the youth for hope,” but making sure they have the resources and support they need in order to learn and grow. Understanding and educating people about sustainability is key. 

What’s next for you?
Hopefully a welding course.

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