Self-taught designer Nicole McLaughlin’s simultaneously playful and functional creations have gained viral attention in recent months, accruing her over 125,000 followers on Instagram. Over the past year, the young designer has made footwear and garments out of everything from tennis balls and balloons, to badminton shuttlecocks and packaging beads. Now, McLaughlin has turned the popularity of her account into a coffee table book published by Ignored Prayers.
McLaughlin entered the world of sportswear during her time at university. Initially majoring in speech pathology, she later went into graphic design, eventually interning at Reebok before getting hired full-time. Whilst working for the company she has been closely involved with facilitating the mass production of the Vetements scribbled Reebok sneakers and the collaborative Cyrillic pieces from Russian label Walk of Shame. Keen to venture beyond graphic design, McLaughlin began repurposing waste materials she found in her office to form new functional objects.
McLaughlin told Highsnobiety earlier this year: “I was getting these wild ideas that I didn’t always know how to translate through my day job, so I would go home and physically try to make them by hand. It was refreshing to switch it up after being on the computer for most of the day. Once I started doing these projects, I realized how much I loved creating tangible items to show my ideas and then switch to digital, which is now something I’ve implemented in my work style.”
The designer has become best known for reworking recognisable branding elements from Levi’s, Patagonia, The North Face, and Ralph Lauren, among others, into whimsical slides. Her practice isn’t confined to footwear though; in fact her very first DIY project was a shirt made using Dover Street Market tissue paper, and more recently she has made a bra top from digital watches, gloves from Columbia ski jackets, and shorts constructed from Ralph Lauren shirt pockets. Among her most shared creations are a pair of trousers crafted from patch worked pencil cases, and an open sandal fastened with Nikon camera straps.
The designer explained to Vogue: “You have to be willing to explore and fail. And if you have an idea that you think is going to work, and it starts failing halfway through, change it.” McLaughlin’s ethos could translate well to companies that often discard wearable pieces because of faulty designs or because they have gone unsold. “That is a huge problem, and everyone is finally becoming aware of those things,” she says. “I think it needs to be done in an authentic way, not just, ‘oh, recycle’ and find something that is recycled and jack the price up on it because it says ‘sustainable.’”
At present, McLaughlin is a resident at the Adidas Brooklyn Creator Farm, a programme that supports burgeoning designers develop their skills, with access to specialist equipment, including a 3D printing facility, which has been useful in furthering McLaughlin’s practice.
Feature image via @nicolemclaughlin