Sk*p Culture: Q&A with Nicole Mclaughlin

Sk*p Culture

  • by Grace Connery
  • 4 min read

This NYC-based artist takes fashion upcycling to another level—old tennis balls become one-of-a-kind shoes and a transparent puffer vest filled with gumballs—oh yes please!

Have you always been interested in fashion and art? Is there someone or something specific that inspired you to do such meaningful work?

The idea of an aesthetic and the ability to evolve it has always inspired me.

My work inspirations come from everywhere; however, my parents and grandfather helped establish the foundations of my creativity. My mother (interior designer), father (carpenter), and grandfather (engineer) only nurtured my crazy ideas as a child. 

Upcycled Ball Shoe

Your designs are immensely creative and turn ordinary objects into whimsical, wearable pieces. What led you to decide to repurpose used materials into fashion items? Are you drawn to anything specific...what sort of materials generally catch your eye?

My experimentation with materials and foray into upcycling coincided with my stint as a graphic designer at my previous job. I was physically surrounded by waste and samples every day, and I wanted to do something about it so I started an initiative internally to reuse the materials. I also took some of the waste home for personal explorations. My finances also played a large part; I was broke. So I had to utilize and maximize whatever material I had available which helped drive my creativity. 

Since I have no professional training as a fashion designer, I gravitated to shapes that I could easily mimic, like a sandal. But because I couldn't sew, it gave me the freedom to explore using different materials.

Where do you find the inspiration for each piece? Do each of your projects speak individualistically towards a specific environmental problem or do all of your pieces work cohesively to make a statement?

Materials alone provide a lot of inspiration and although the visuals and materials may change, the message does not. All of my work highlights upcycling.

Upcycled Jacket

Approximately how long does each piece of clothing take you to complete? Have you ever dropped a project and why?

It depends on what the piece is, some things take a few hours while others could a few days. And some things I've been working on for years because no project is ever complete. Upcycling is about finding ways to utilize something for as much and as long as possible. There is no end game. 

Do you have a favorite piece that you've created? Does it have any special meaning to you, or do you just like the way it looks?

The volleyball shoe. It was a real breakthrough moment for me to take an item like a sphere and create a shoe out of it without altering its visual identity. 

You've become very popular across several different platforms. What steps have you taken to increase your social media following? Did you find that it was something that happened naturally, or rather something that you had to work at?

What happened on social was totally unexpected and happened naturally. Four years later, I'm still surprised by it all. The only thing I work at is making sure my work conveys the messages I'm trying to share. 

Upcycled Beach Chair

Do you end up keeping/wearing the pieces you create? What is the most interesting material that you've worked with?

I typically end up deconstructing the pieces I've made to use on other projects. It's less about the permanence of these things and more about the potential of waste and how we can transform them. 

Tell us about the nonprofit you are creating that will offer design resources to aspiring creators. What led you to begin this project and how is it progressing?

My nonprofit is a work in progress, but the idea came from not being able to afford materials early on in my career. Upcycling was a direct result of my financial circumstance. I worked with what little I had, focusing on maximizing its potential, which continues to drive me and my work. 

By providing materials and additional resources to those looking to explore sustainable design, I hope to give insight into an industry that offers more than just products. And this can apply to almost any brand/industry. It's about bridging the gap and having a proper conversation with the right people to create the solutions we need. I'm still figuring out how to do it, but we're taking steps in the right direction.

Are you working on any new items or projects that we can share with our community?

I'm always working on something. I have a few sustainability-focused workshops coming up with Arc'Teryx and Puma; and some charitable auctions with LG Electronics, Arc'Teryx, and more. I'm grateful to be busy, but looking forward to taking some time off to focus on sleeping. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? What do you hope to be doing?

Ideally, I'd like to work with brands across all industries to create a positive impact through actionable change but also quite happy sitting on my studio floor, surrounded by waste, and working on projects.