The Slip-On VR3 LX by Vans and Nicole McLaughlin
A leader in innovative design, multi-talented Nicole McLaughlin is known by the mass as a social media phenomenon and artist. Within the fashion industry, the New York-based upcycling pioneer gets applauded for being an ever-exploring sustainable designer. Through product salvaging, McLaughlin creates functionally designed fashion. She approaches the translation of materials as a messaging opportunity, sending the message to reduce waste and establish environmental change.
We asked her what sparked her love for upcycling, how she stays inspired, and where she wants to take her design sensibilities in the future.
You have always prioritised sustainability in your work. What exactly kindled your longing and excitement for upcycling, specifically creating functional garments from thrift store finds and everyday household items?
Upcycling and sustainability were not a priority when I first started creating. I was a young designer with limited resources and skills, so reusing second-hand goods and sample/waste materials made more sense than buying new ones. While experimenting, my understanding of design, materials, patterns, and overall construction grew as I deconstructed to construct. A direct result of that exposure and working in the sportswear industry helped shift my perspective and unlock the potential of waste through upcycling. It allowed me to see things in a new light, and single-use items now had multiple lives through added functionality and a bit of humour.
You have designed numerous successful solo projects, collaborated with big labels and achieved impressive creative output supplementary to this. How do you constantly come up with new designs?
Developing new designs is challenging, but challenge and my stubbornness drive me. Materials also inspire me. They provide a multitude of inspirations on what they can become.
Part of the reason why you upcycle is that you wish to alter consumer purchasing habits. Today's fashion industry perpetuates rather trend-driven purchase behaviour. What do you wish to achieve with upcycling, environmentally- and consumerism-wise?
I upcycle and highlight sustainability to change people's mindsets around waste and see its potential. To assume that I, an individual, can alter consumer purchasing habits is putting the ownness of a global problem on me and not holding the multi-billion fashion industry, specifically fast fashion, accountable. I want to educate and bring awareness to what's out there and what we can do with it. It's about finding solutions to existing waste and finding a way to talk about it.
Sustainability is a broad and complicated topic, and the humour you find in my work allows people to talk about it by removing a layer of seriousness. The conversation is the first step. Then the fun aspect creates a visual language that anyone can understand. A high heel upcycled multiple times might seem repetitive. But, what you don't realise is that what you see is an item's potential unlocked with each reiteration. People will always have something to say about what you do, but I welcome it. If you can make it yourself, then do it. That's what I want to see—people out there who see my work and are motivated to do something.
Photographer: Eva van Kesteren | Model: Emilia Brys