This Carhartt bikini will change the way you think about upcycling – outdoors | WHs Answers


If you’ve spent any time on social media over the past few years, chances are you’ve come across Nicole McLaughlin’s viral designs. The 28-year-old crafts her pieces using upcycled clothing and gear from well-known outdoor brands and household items: she has Carhartt hats into shorts, Patagonia fleece shirts into a beach set, an Arc’teryx jacket into a bikini and repurposed CamelBak water reservoirs transformed to make a jacket and bucket hat, along with a long list of other really cool stuff – like this pickle glass shoe.

While their pieces are often functional (the CamelBak jacket held water), they’re not meant for real-world use; She says the goal is to get people to see how reusable existing materials can be and start a conversation about sustainability. After photographing each individual piece for The Gram, she deconstructs them so the materials can be used in future projects. McLaughlin used the same volleyball material in a shoe, chair upholstery, glove and handbag commissioned for Gucci. “It’s lived so many lives,” she says, and it’s currently in her library of materials, waiting to live another life. “I always try to use everything I have, every scrap of every project.”

What sets McLaughlin’s work apart is her knowledge of how to create visual impact, a skill she honed while working at Reebok, first as an intern, then as a full-time graphic designer. “That was sort of the beginning of my personal work,” she recalls of her time designing footwear and apparel graphics. “I think I had this childish sense of wonder where I just wanted to get my hands on and create something tangible.” She started going through boxes of old goods and started taking things apart and looking at different ones way to reassemble. She realized immediately that she had hit a vein. “It’s something very special,” she recalls. “These products just had so much more life.”

In 2019 she made the transition to a full-time freelance creative and has since amassed almost 800,000 followers on Instagram and has worked with the world’s biggest outdoor and fashion brands including Arc’teryx, Rumpl and Hermès. With profiles in Vogue and GQ, fashion audiences have always been drawn to her work, “but my intention has always been very rooted in sport. I think the imagery is so strong,” she says. “I love outdoor gear. It’s the benefit aspect. There’s so much going on with a lot of the tracks, and for me it’s a bit nostalgic.”

Outdoor sports have always been a big part of her life, but in recent years climbing has become one of McLaughlin’s great passions, as reflected in many of her designs. She started indoor climbing during her Rebook days in Boston and has since branched out into outdoor climbing and bouldering. In May, she moved to Boulder, Colorado for easy access to the great outdoors, but will continue to keep her design studio in Brooklyn. Aside from her personal work, the only thing you’ll find on her social media is rock climbing. “I think I got into it [because] It’s a very problem-solving type of experience where you have to plan your next steps and really work things out. She even has a climbing wall built into the studio. “It’s a nice mental reset during the day. Sometimes I’ll jump in and do some rises or pull-ups and it feels good to get my brain going.”

Like many artists, she finds inspiration everywhere; walking the streets of New York, browsing thrift stores and engaging in outdoor activities. During a recent community cleanup, a found piece of discarded packaging inspired a new project. “It’s right in front of us. It turns on that part of your brain to recognize it.”

McLaughlin has a climbing wall at her Brooklyn studio to clear her head. (Photo: Courtesy of Nicole McLaughlin)

Because her plays are rooted in the idea of ​​potential, there’s an obvious optimism in her work, but there’s also a satirical element. She plays up the brand’s reputation by placing logos front and center and incorporating widely recognized items like Jansport backpacks and The North Face puffy jackets as a playful but pointed nod to capitalist consumption. “Without the brand logo, it probably wouldn’t get as much attention. For better or for worse, our consumption habits really come out.” You can’t help but chuckle at a Dickies workwear thong that actually contains tools. “I find the humor in all of this, and I think that’s what gets people involved,” says McLaughlin. “It’s a way to connect people and talk about sustainability in a more accessible way. Hopefully they’ll come for the designs and stay to talk about upcycling.”

One of their most important partnerships to date is with Arc’teryx as their first design ambassador. “Arc’teryx has been a great support for me when it comes to material, [and] It was really an opportunity to help with education,” she says. McLaughlin runs workshops where the partnership teaches people how to make their own upcycled products, and she credits the brand with creating a place of connection. “It is important to connect people, to connect nature with it. The more people get outside, the more they want to protect the world and nature around them.”

Portrait of designer Nicole McLaughlin
A portrait of designer Nicole McLaughlin. (Photo: Courtesy of Nicole McLaughlin)

When she chooses outdoor brands to work with, “it’s all about a connection that I have,” says McLaughlin. “It’s very interesting for me to take on a project where I see potential in sustainability and upcycling.” Many of her closest partnerships involve brands that are actively achieving their sustainability goals, but she won’t turn away any company when she sees an opportunity to move the needle. “It makes me push to figure out that we could do better, and trying to implement a circular model in a company has been one of my big goals.” She wants brands to see the potential of the materials, that they already have laying around and help them create designs to work with.

She hopes her work will inspire others to see the value in the things they have and give upcycling a chance. “It has something to do with taking a second-hand piece of clothing, an item from a thrift store, or something from your closet that you want to throw away or donate and trying to make something out of it,” she concludes. “[The] Possibilities are endless.”

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