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Nicole McLaughlin Is an Upcycling Sorceress

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“This is the therapeutic part for me,” says Nicole McLaughlin, right before she drags an X-acto knife through the top of a sneaker. It gets even more therapeutic from there: one by one, she dismantles orphan sneakers, removing the uppers from the soles, and sewing them onto an old Carhartt vest. (The soles are saved for another project down the line.) McLaughlin is a young designer pushing the concept of upcycling—turning one piece of used clothing into another, new one—as far as it can go, to the point where fashion and art begin to blur. She turns tennis balls into shoes, oven mitts into jackets, shuttlecocks (you know, the badminton things) into slippers. And for the first episode of “The Most Interesting Designers in the World,” she shows you how she does it with what we’re calling a Carhartt sneaker vest.

“The Most Interesting Designers in the World” is GQ’s new series about our favorite creative minds and makers. Come with us inside their studio and watch how they make the garments and objects we love and can’t wait to wear.

Here McLaughlin explains how she began turning found objects into fashion. She got her start at Reebok, where she cut her teeth as a designer and developed an appreciation for garments that serve a function. 

As sustainability became a bigger part of the fashion conversation, she got more into the concept of fashion circularity—reusing garments for as long as possible, so they don’t end up in a dump. All the while, she’s tearing up shoes and sculpting them into something new, explaining the process as she goes. For all you would-be upcyclers out there, check out her insider tips, from using fishing line to sussing out stray pins with a magnet.

Check McLaughlin and her sick sneaker vest below, and stay tuned for the next episode of “The Most Interesting Designers in the World.”

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