10?’s with designer, up-cycler and fashionista, Nicole McLaughlin

Nicole McLaughlin is a New York-based designer, and former graphic designer who has turned her hobby into a career by focusing on the ever-evolving exploration around upcycling and sustainable fashion. Her work on Instagram and in collaborations spans humorous, complex, serious and silly, with a tongue-in-cheek approach to everything that she does. It's her way of changing the perception of waste and sustainable design.


So much of what you do and make is fun and amusing, but we really want to know, what’s the most boring thing you’ve ever made?

No one has ever asked this question before.

Some aspects of the making process can seem tedious, like sitting and sewing for hours on end, but the pieces themselves are anything but.

Carhartt Toolkit Bikini
Carhartt Ugg Tool Boot
Carhartt Toolkit Beanie

As amusing as your work is though, there’s clearly a deeper thing going on here to do with up-cycling and sustainability – turning waste into something new and desirable. What can someone who sees your work take from it and apply to their own work or lifestyle?

A lot of what I use is part of my everyday life, so there’s a visual familiarity that’s hopefully relatable. From there, it’s about slowing down and seeing value in repairing and keeping materials alive.

Ultimately, I hope they’re inspired to look at their stuff differently.

CamelBak Reservoir Jacket
JanSport Capsule Collection

Have you always wanted to be a designer or did you have dreams of something else when you were a kid?

I always wanted to do something creative but didn’t necessarily know what that was. As a kid, I was crafty and enjoyed making things with my hands and photography, but fashion and design didn't seem possible. My younger self would be happy to know that something like this is my job because I didn't think it was something I could do.

Nicole's workshop
Nicole's workshop
Nicole's giant Croc & climbing wall
Nicole's workshop

We know you’re a big advocate of having pockets on clothes, especially for women, so what have you got in your pockets right now?

I just stabbed myself with an open safety pin, which is a typical pocket find. Mostly mini tools and crumpled pieces of paper because I fidget so much on calls that they tend to accumulate in my pockets, and I find them all when I’m doing laundry.

Sadly, no money.

Travel Vest
JanSport Pocket Thong
Lunchbox Shorts
Watch Bra
Haribo Shorts

You’re based in New York which has famously been the playground for some of art’s biggest names; Warhol, Basquiat, Haring and so on who all drew inspiration from the city environment.

What is your experience of New York and does it have an impact on how you work and what you make?

It’s hard to be in New York and not feel some sort of excitement or inspiration. But what gets me thinking is typically discarded on the sidewalks. You’re in a populated area with lots of trash, so it’s a good starting point. I also like walking around and observing what people are doing and wearing.

Chances are, you’re going to see a lot. Random acts of kindness, street fights, etc., this city life’s highs and lows constantly vary in intensity.

I think creative people come here because it promises unknown opportunities. I don’t think you need to be in a big city to be successful, but it helps to be around like-minded creatives in a place where a lot of things are constantly happening. It’s a hustle mentality and great for those driven by that energy.

French Fry Slides
Wipe Slides
Sushi Slides
Oreo Slides
Toothpaste Slides
Paint Slides

Do you take requests? If so, what’s the weirdest thing someone’s ever asked you to make?

I did make a vest out of goalie gloves for DJ Snake for his birthday, but I don’t really do commission work.

And people seem to covet the baked goods pieces, but no.

Baguette Mitten

You previously studied graphic design at school and even had an internship at Reebok doing that.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience in the graphic design world? What kind of stuff did you like and what did you make?

I love graphic design, and even though I do different work, I still utilise those skills regularly.

I was a physical maker before bringing it into the digital space and turning it into a graphic. I’ve always been a maker, but I love the creative freedom of what you can do on the computer. I enjoyed that you can bring things to life on a different level.

I started on graphic patterns for running clothes and worked predominantly for Classics remaking old Reebok graphics. Seeing how you could make something playful was fun, but I struggled with the timelines. I tend to overly focus on getting everything at a certain level because that's the bar I set for myself, and tight turnarounds were not very accommodating.

Reebok Cap Shorts
Reebok Work Sliders

Being a brand ambassador for Arc’teryx, developing a non-profit organisation, working with brands like Crocs and Gucci, rock climbing, sourcing materials in person and online and surely more things we’re missing. How do you have time to fit it all in? Are you doing this all yourself or do you have a team?

I’m super grateful to have these opportunities, but obviously, I’m very tired. I have my business manager, who keeps all manner of things organised and creates a framework to ensure that everything gets made. I’m also in a position where I can bring specialised people to help with specific projects, which has been very helpful.


What’s the best piece of advice someone has ever given you?

Tune out the noise and focus on creating and getting your ideas out there. Trust your gut.


Finally, what are you working on right now?

I have a shoe collaboration coming out in December, which will be a full-circle moment in my career.

I’m also working on several museum exhibitions, university talks, upcycling workshops, and finding moments to breathe.

Nicole McLauhglin is a New York-based designer

Her work highlights the importance of upcycling, and her tongue-in-cheek designs are a unique way of getting the sustainable fashion message across. Currently, she is developing a non-profit organization that helps provide much-needed design resources to young people, connecting large companies – especially those with deadstock and overstock materials – to schools and universities in need. She has collaborated with Crocs, Gucci, and Depop and is Arc’teryx’s first-ever design ambassador.


Questions: Craig Berry
Editor: Craig Berry

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