Designer Nicole McLaughlin has collated an anthology of her viral projects, which see everyday items transformed into wearable pieces of design.
McLaughlin rose to popularity on Instagram and has worked with brands from Hermès to Prada. The designer crafts fashion and accessories from ordinary items, such as mismatched charity shop trainers, used shower curtains and croissants she’s about to eat for breakfast.
McLaughlin, who started her career as a graphic designer at sportswear brand Reebok, fashioned her earliest upcycling projects from unwanted samples and second-hand clothing.
These Volleyball slides, created in 2018, marked her first foray into using everyday objects that would not traditionally be upcycled or taken out of their functional context.
“At the time I didn’t know how to sew, I was glueing and cutting and trying to slap things together,” she said. “So I removed the stitching that held the volleyball together and just re-stitched through the same holes.”
“That’s a technique I go back to a lot because I don’t ever want to transform something so much that it’s not recognisable,” McLaughlin added. “I really try to keep the integrity of the original design and shift it just enough that it’s something new.”
“I was buying these clear shower curtains and I would get the use out of them and then find a way to maximise it,” she said.
“Shower curtains are something that gets thrown away pretty often but they’re not something that you would traditionally upcycle. You would probably think it was super gross but I found ways to clean it and get it looking nice again.”
Shortlisted for last year’s Design of the Year award, the Shoe Case gives new life to one of McLaughlin‘s old suitcases by covering its holes with a patchwork of different trainer parts.
She sourced the mismatched shoes from a local charity shop and sewed them together by hand over the course of 15 hours, using a clear fishing line to avoid having to colour-match threads to all the different shoes.
“I have a technique for taking apart shoes, and sneakers in particular have a really good, strong upper. Then there’s the foam backing and the tongue – there are so many details that you can use.”
From a gumball-filled vest to pencil-case sandals with a functioning sharpener embedded into the sole – many of McLaughlin‘s projects draw on nostalgia and childhood memories that have been updated into a contemporary context.
For her Lego Shorts the designer repurposed the Lego bricks she played with as a child to form the rainbow-coloured filling for a pair of shorts.
“My mom has kept a lot of the things that I really enjoyed when I was little, so every time I go home I’m inspired,” McLaughlin said.
“I always end up doing a project while I’m there. I don’t really have all the equipment and sewing machines that I do in my studio so it’s really about working with what’s there. What are the basics that I can take and build a project off of?”
McLaughlin‘s “waste not, want not” philosophy also extends to the food that she incorporates into her designs.
This particular brassiere was made during the height of lockdown from two croissants that she and her boyfriend subsequently ate for breakfast.
“I’ve never made anything with food that I didn’t eat afterwards and I would never want to be wasteful, so I also try to incorporate the packaging,” she said.
“In this case, I used the twine that held together the pastry box, taped it to a chopstick and fed it through the middle of the croissants. I had to be so delicate because I knew this was my one chance to get it right, since I only had two croissants”, Mc Laughlin told.