From Nikon camera straps and Gatorade bottles, to Wilson tennis balls and Whole Foods shopping bags, Nicole McClaughlin is changing perceptions with her unique creations
Nicole McLaughlin has been into weird shoes since she was a kid. “I had tons of wild skate shoes by Osiris, Etnies and Vans, and those ridiculous Heelys with the wheels on them,” she explains. “But it wasn’t until I started working at Reebok that I realised how much I could physically push the limits with footwear.” While other designers have been carving a niche for themselves via trainer hybrids and ceramic reincarnations of cult shoes, when she’s not doing her day job, McLaughlin flexes her design muscles upcycling unwanted fabric off-cuts and objects that most people consider mundane.
It was while studying digital media technology that McLaughlin decided to explore as many facets of design as possible, but it was an apprenticeship with Reebok that led to her current role as an apparel graphic designer for the sportswear label’s Classics line – which has seen her work on projects like the Vetements x Reebok Instapump Fury.
According to McLaughlin, she’s always been ‘a little unconventional’ in the way that she approaches a task, but there’s a single piece crafted in 2016 that kickstarted the remixed designs we see on her Instagram account today: a button down shirt made entirely from Dover Street Market tissue paper. “It was actually so difficult because I only had just enough to make it. I had to be really careful not to accidentally tear it.”
McLaughlin has a unique ability to find a new sense of design purpose in the banal. “There are so many amazing materials, shapes, and even colours in existing products that I feel are under-appreciated, or are something we’ve become immune to,” she explains. “People have probably seen these objects a million times, so I love to challenge their perception of what they know it to be by showing them the same thing, but in a way in which they’ve never seen it before.”
“People have probably seen these objects a million times, so I love to challenge their perception of them by showing them the same items, but in a way they’ve never seen them before” – Nicole McLaughlin
The repurposed pieces in question range from slides constructed from Nikon D2 camera straps and a utility waistcoat fabricated from Whole Foods shopping bags, to a Gatorade Squeeze bottle chair and bulbous footwear crafted from all-too-familiar volleyballs. In fact, the volleyball slippers are McLaughlin’s favourite piece to date. “That was the first time I made something out of a completely round object – having no idea what the outcome would be – and I was just so surprised by the shape it was able to transform into. Plus, they’re super comfy! Once I did that I realised pretty much anything was fair game.”
When it comes to McLaughlin’s process, more often than not a single idea will act as a catalyst for those that follow. For example, her slipper crafted from Ralph Laurent polo shirt pockets. “The idea came to me on the subway after seeing someone wearing that instantly recognisable iconic logo pocket tee. I thought it would be cool on a patchwork style shoe. Once I finished that I felt like there was still more to be explored (similar to my Carhartt beanie series), so I thought of a part two, which was the Polo pocket shorts."
Refreshingly, Mclaughlin doesn’t do waste – she even upcycles her own upcycles. But having dismantled the Polo slipper to construct the shorts, she realised she was a few pocket squares short. “I went to Goodwill to find some more and while I was there I saw a ton of old Levi jeans with that iconic back patch,” she recalls. “That inspired me to make the leather Levi mules. It’s a continuous cycle. I just can’t stop!”