Sneaker Week
nicole mclaughlin upcycled sustainable footwear

Nicole McLaughlin Debuts New Shoes from Her Insta-Famous Footwear Collection

Plus, the story behind some of her most recognizable pairs.

By: Leah Faye Cooper

Of all the ways one can use Instagram—to glean style inspiration, to flex on your ex, to keep up with your cousins in Kansas—one of our favorites is to discover creative passion projects that we otherwise may never learn about. Some time last year, along with thousands of other fashion- and sneaker-enthused individuals, we scrolled across Nicole McLaughlin’s account, which prominently features the kitschy-meets-cool shoes and clothes she makes from vintage sportswear scraps and other materials such as tennis balls and candy packages.

Born and raised in New Jersey, McLaughlin studied digital media technology in Pennsylvania and landed a year-long internship with Reebok upon graduating. She now works full-time with the brand as a graphic designer in the Classics category and completed a three-month residency at the adidas Brooklyn farm in 2018, focusing on footwear.

“Even as a graphic designer, being surrounded by footwear every day really inspired me,” McLaughlin says. “I wanted to know more about shoes and how they were made, [and] since I don’t come from an industrial design background, the best way that I thought to learn was by physically taking things apart and attempting to reconstruct them into shoes.”

McLaughlin’s upcycled, sustainable designs have caught the attention of Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily, among other prominent outlets, and a few months ago she launched an online shop. Ahead, she debuts two new styles—an adidas drawstring design, and a pair fashioned from a Carhartt tool belt—and shares the inspiration and construction behind six other pairs.

Drawstring: “I try to incorporate pockets into footwear projects, and this was a great opportunity to do that. I also wanted to keep the functionality of the drawstring bag so the ankle cinches to tighten.”

Reebok Watch: “I use eBay a lot for thrifting and came across this old Reebok waist bag presumably for lifeguards. The woven label on the front was something I wanted to highlight, along with the bungee system.”

Badminton: “I love the shape and color of badminton birdies, they’re so unique. I knew I wanted to use them in a project somehow, and the more I looked at them, the more I started to see the shape of a cleat.”

Windbreaker: “I found this windbreaker while thrifting in New York, and the colors were amazing! I used the sleeve cuffs to create the bootie construction.”

Snack Slide: “I travel a lot for work, so this idea actually came to me while shopping around for snacks at the airport. It just felt like a funny and ‘convenient’ concept.”

Sweatbands: “The terry cloth material of sweatbands made me think of hotel slippers, so naturally it just worked. This is really when I first started to play up the over-branded look.”

Pro: “One of my more conceptual pieces is the tennis ball slipper, ‘Pro.’ I was really determined to make it work and push shapes and proportions past anything I had done before.”

Tool Belt: “Inspired by my dad actually [laughs],Carhartt is a brand I’ve used a lot for projects because there’s so many iconic things made by them. I try to play up the fine line between conceptual versus functional, and I think this piece embodies that.”

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