If only we could see the world through Nicole McLaughlin’s eyes, we’d see slippers where others see volleyballs and raincoats arranging themselves from a pile of discarded bubble wrap. Since leaving her day job as a graphic designer in 2018 and turning her upcycling passion into a career in sustainable fashion design, this young creative has been getting a lot of well-earned recognition for her wildly imaginative work, collaborating with the likes of Puma and Arc’teryx. Through her whimsical approach to repurposing everyday materials McLaughlin challenges our perception of waste and promotes sustainability in a way that feels anything but preachy.
But creating is only half the story for Nicole McLaughlin, who spends much of her time and energy educating the public, hosting global workshops on the artistic and functional potential of everyday items. Looking ahead, McLaughlin hopes to launch a summer program concentrating on skill-based learning, teaching students not only the “what” but also the “how” and “why” behind sustainable design.
McLaughlin is currently developing a non-profit organization that will provide design resources to young artists. The organization will help large companies donate their dead stock and overstock materials to schools and universities in need, repurposing these resources for the classroom. With the crisis of climate change looming ever larger, it’ll take imaginations as big as McLaughlin’s to save the day. And thanks to her, being proactive has never looked better.
You can check out their latest projects on Creatively here.
What is the first creative project you remember?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. My first creative project had one goal: earning enough money to buy candy. So, I did whatever I could to make a dollar. In elementary school, I made Barbie clothes— they weren’t very good, but they sold. In 5th grade, I also started a massage business where I charged fifty cents to a dollar to give what I can only describe as aggressive high-fives and punches disguised as “therapeutic.” Nothing was relaxing about them.
Describe your aesthetic in three words.
Comfortable, functional, fun.
What was the most fulfilling collaboration you’ve worked on?
I’m grateful for the collaborations I’ve already done, but I’m equally looking forward to the ones that I have yet to do and the new challenges they’ll pose. I’m excited about my partnership with Arc’teryx and the long-lasting impact we can create by focusing on circularity, upcycling, and full-scale sustainability. I’ve also raised money for several charities through collaborations with brands such as JanSport, Puma, and various personal projects.
What’s one creative project that taught you something fundamental about yourself?
I’ve learned something from every single project but the volleyball shoe was a real breakthrough moment. It broke down barriers in my creative thinking and opened up a whole new world. It removed the word “no” from my vocabulary when creating.
Do you think creativity is something you’re born with, or something you’re taught?
I think we’re born with a sense of wonder and curiosity and the type of creativity that develops depends on whether it’s nurtured or cast aside. Creativity doesn’t necessarily mean being a designer or an artist; it’s how you view things and apply your way of thinking to any aspect of your life.
What’s the last dream you had?
One of the strangest things I’ve dreamt about was that I was a political speechwriter for a famous rapper who was running for governor. It was bizarre. At one point, I think he wanted to be president and we argued about how much of my time they needed for actual speech writing.
One hundred years from now, what do you hope people write about your work?
In 100 years from now, I hope people are living a better life grounded in positive change. I hope that society will have learned from past mistakes. Fingers crossed we haven’t totally f-ed up.
If there’s any impact, any legacy of my work, I hope I’ll have inspired people to view waste as a tool to create fun designs rather than a burden.
Follow @NicoleMcLaughlin on Creatively.
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