Designer transforms household objects into playful fashion

Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

On Instagram or TikTok, if you’ve seen a Dove wipe dispenser bra, tennis ball shoes, or a toast hat with the Carhartt logo, you’ve probably noticed Nicole McLaughlin’s work. By making one-of-a-kind pieces with everyday products and recycled streetwear, the Brooklyn-based designer gives each of her playful pieces a new function.

Over the past couple of years, McLaughlin has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers with her designs ranging from the unexpected (ask before you take a towel from your bra) to the wonderfully impractical, like a “shoeshi” sandal with a takeaway sushi tray. for the belt.

And while McLaughlin’s tool carrying thongs and a quilted vest made from cereal packs arouse joy, they also challenge us to rethink the items we own.

“We all have a lot of stuff,” McLaughlin said in a telephone interview, adding that often people have limited insight into how their stuff can be used. “A jacket is a jacket, and it can’t be a pair of shoes or something else. And so I thought maybe I should try to break (those) because the more opportunities you give the material, you will see so many different things happen.

Fashion has a huge waste problem, with 80% of all clothes ending up in landfills or incinerated. And while brands bear much of the responsibility, consumers can help by shopping less and wearing their clothes longer. Recycling old clothes into new ones has inspired thriving online communities with inspirational and educational content on YouTube, Pinterest and TikTok – on TikTok alone, the hashtag has nearly 6 billion views. Users redesign old sweaters, teach viewers how to hand embroider torn clothing and transform second-hand garments, embracing the unique results of upcycling and its eco-conscious benefits.

As for his practice, McLaughlin began his upcycling projects on his off hours as a former graphic designer for Reebok, where he saw firsthand how many samples were discarded. So he started taking some home to take apart and reassemble projects, then posted the results on his social media accounts.

“When he takes something apart and almost dissects it from the inside out, you realize how much these pieces are inside,” he said. “And most of the time, if something is factory made, we take it for granted, especially when it comes to fast fashion, because it’s so cheap.”

His first viral post was about a cozy but surreal sneaker made of open tennis balls, reminiscent of the bulky shape of a Yeezy foam runner.

“He checked a bunch of boxes. It was comfortable, the colors were beautiful, it was wearable and durable, “she recalled.” And I was like, ‘I think I have something with that.’ “

Intuitive designs

From her earliest experiments, McLaughlin acquired technical sewing skills from friends and family and committed herself full-time to her studio. He doesn’t sell his designs (most of them take them apart again to reuse materials), but he worked with Crocs and his former employer, Reebok, to produce recycled collections. Some of her garments have been worn by celebrities, however, with model Kristen McMenamy wearing a coat made of Puma gloves on the cover of British Vogue in December, while Puerto Rican rapper Jhay Cortez donned her shoe vest in a video. musical last fall.

McLaughlin is paid by brands to recycle their products for its social media channels. Her partners have included Arc’teryx, Puma, and Camelbak, and when they send her samples or excess inventory to work with, she says inventing new designs is an intuitive process.

“I put it on my body and try to sculpt something out of that,” he explained. “If it’s sports equipment, I put it on my feet and see if it creates some kind of shape, or I put it on my head and see if I can make a hat out of it.”

For independent projects, he uses recycled materials, looking for items that have unique characteristics, especially for wear.

“I actually prefer to find things that are pretty damaged or battered because that’s a good starting point for me,” he said. “If it has a hole or a stain, I can … incorporate it into the piece.”

But she also likes to maximize the use of each item in one or more projects, so the more details, like hoods, pockets and zippers, the better. Oversized pockets feature prominently in her designs, which she says is likely an “f-you unconscious” for brands who remove them from women’s clothing to save money.

“I get really mad when you buy something and it doesn’t have pockets, or it has those fake pockets,” he commented. “Every woman needs pockets to carry her things … I’m putting pockets on everything now, including bras.”

wider change

McLaughlin has become a go-to person for brands to turn to with their excess products, and while they often direct them to fashion design programs that need materials, she says she will create a nonprofit for a way this year. more formal than assisting brands with those they work with.

“It was a really cool experience to be able to work with brands that typically don’t recycle things at all,” he said. “It’s not really feasible for them to take second-hand material and try to find a way to reuse it.”

In his workshops, which he hosted with Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, McLaughlin instructs students to build footwear with only one sole as a starting point, recycle something from their closet, or sift through garbage – such as material challenges. unconventional from “Project Runway”, but with sustainability in mind.

He loves teaching others how to upcycle because everyone will approach the same prompt differently, he said.

“There is room for everyone to participate (upcycling) because we need people to do it. There are so many things that we have to try to figure out how to use them in a different way, “he said.” And everyone’s performances will be so different. “

For those who want to get started, she said, “you don’t need to be a sewing expert to be able to change things.” It could be as simple as cutting out an old shirt, he added.

“It starts in your closet, goes through the things you’ve held for a long time and haven’t gotten rid of for a reason,” she advised. “Try to figure out what it is that would make you want to use it again. What do you like about it? Is it its texture – like it’s like a fleece, but doesn’t it fit you anymore? Could you take off his sleeves and put them together to make a bag? And then you also have a vest from it. “

While your early designs may not be as engaging as McLaughlin’s hydrating jacket made from Camelbak tanks, or as extravagant as her croissant bra, rethinking any older piece of clothing is a good start.

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