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Disassembling discarded objects to reassemble them back: Nicole McLaughlin plan

The New York-based designer considers her work as the opposite of what Marie Kondo values, encouraging her audience to keep what they have

Keep what you have

The KonMari Method – the approach founded by Marie Kondo, an expert in tidying, and the foundation of the tidying consultant business she commenced as a university student at the age of nineteen – encourages owners to tidy their possession by category, not by location. They begin with clothes, books, papers, and items that deem miscellaneous before turning to items that remain dear to the owners, keeping only those that speak to their heart and discard objects that no longer spark joy, the catchphrase of one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. While California hosts Kondo and her family, New York houses the antithesis to KonMari Method. This designer considers her work as the opposite of what Kondo values, encouraging her audience to keep what they have. «I understand that it is nice to reset the life you have in your closet, but I also go and tell that you bought it in the first place – you need to figure out the consequences of buying these items. Why not try to get more out of them than just throw them out on the side of the street once you have gotten used to them or worn them out?». What Nicole McLaughlin meant by this lies in the way she has transformed pot and pan holders into a jacket, stitched plastic bags of cereals into a sleeveless jacket, bent a silicone ice tray and a wipes tray into a slipper, and hooked wire cables into portable chargers to create a bra.

Lampoon talks to Nicole McLaughlin

McLaughlin dives from the conception to the grounding of her body of work. «I was previously working for Reebok, and for a period at Adidas, as a graphic designer. It was during this period that I figured out how much I loved working with my hands – I enjoyed taking things apart and making something out of those parts. During my time in these companies, I wanted to reach into the computer and take whatever I was designing at the time out of the screen and to work with it physically instead of just designing the graphics. When I consistently felt that, I told myself that I should explore this a bit more». Circling back to 2017, McLaughlin would find samples and scraps around the office – foraging for wrappers, boxes, textiles, and wires work colleagues and visitors would throw away – and take them home with her. She would place them on her worktable, gaze at them as she reflected on forms to shape, messed around with them until she conceived objects and items she may wear, a hobby that took up her evenings and weekends. With no background in fashion, style, design, and sewing, she grappled with how productions manufacture clothes and apparel as she disassembled and reassembled the sports balls, plastic bags, packets of sauces, children’s toys such as motorcycles, towers, airplanes, and robots, bread, and hand sanitizers into gloves, jackets, pockets, sweaters, and shoes. While at first she juggled with her job in the day from nine to five as a graphic designer, she swerved into the direction of turning her hobby into a career when the photos she had posted on Instagram took off, a nudge to the designer to bid farewell to sitting in front of her computer all day.

Using found materials to create clothes

Graphic designing may not fit with what she does, but McLaughlin owes elements to this as she draws her composition, style, and organization from what she learned in graphic design when she patches pieces up, where to place the logos in her designs, and how the visual would appear as a byproduct. When asked if she employs the use of mood or vision board to commence her creations, McLaughlin prefers to stay outside and hunt for materials. «Going to a thrift store, or just walking around to see what I can bring home. I live in New York, and I see people throwing their trash out along with other objects. Then, every project I make goes in its own way – at times, I have a clear picture of how I want it to be; at times, I find the picture from the objects themselves. If I have an idea, I want to go at it right now, and that could be, for instance, at one in the morning. When that happens, I have to ask myself: where do I find the material? How can I do this? It is challenging to have to wait until the morning, but once I get some sleep and wake up, there is a reset button and I may think of a new idea again». 

Fashion’s throwing away problem

Sustainability helms the advocacy of why McLaughlin disassembles and reassembles objects from the forms they once had. When the designer worked for Reebok and Adidas, she witnessed how the shoes consumers consume may require two, three, four, or five samples before achieving the byproduct for one shoe – double the amount if a pair must be produced – throwing away the excess materials deemed as trash. In a report by Chris Baraniuk on whether or not fashion firms would stop burning clothes, Burberry had incinerated clothing worth 28.6 million pounds in 2017 and by 2018 announced that it no longer carried such action out due to media scrutiny. Continuing the story, the UK Parliament published a report on fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability in February 2019 stating that «the way we make, use and throw away our clothes is unsustainable. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined, consumes lake-sized volumes of fresh water, and creates chemical and plastic pollution. Synthetic fibers are being found in the deep sea, in Arctic Sea ice, in fish and shellfish. Our biggest retailers have ‘chased the cheap needle around the planet’, commissioning production in countries with low pay, little trade union representation, and weak environmental protection. In many countries, poverty pay and conditions are standard for garment workers, most of whom are women. We are also concerned about the use of child labor, prison labor, forced labor, and bonded labor in factories and the garment supply chain. Fast fashions’ overproduction and overconsumption of clothing are based on the globalization of indifference towards these manual workers». According to its data, around three hundred thousand tons of textile waste ends up in bins every year, or sent to landfills or incinerators, with less than one percent of the material used to produce the clothing becomes recycled and that retailers continue to burn unsold stock to preserve their brand. Corporate social responsibility initiatives have failed to improve pay and working conditions, and reduce waste, contrary to their pursuit for sustainability as overconsumption and overproduction drive extinction and affect climate change.

Nicole McLaughlin’s atelier

Nicole McLaughlin upcycling

In Ronna Chao’s write-up on the inability of an upcycling system to solve fashion’s waste problem, she has highlighted that the United States delivers an estimated 12.7 million tons of textile waste to landfills each year while China produces twenty-six million, a result to the industry’s creation of one hundred fifty billion pieces of clothing each year to a seven million targeted consumers. On top of this, cities consume over seventy-five percent of natural resources which, in turn, results in more than fifty percent of global waste and the emission of between sixty and eighty percent of greenhouse gas emissions. While upcycling may fail to provide a cure-all, it may provide the first step towards awareness for the public to understand that they no longer need to throw away the items, clothing, and objects they bought. To underscore this essence, McLaughlin hosts workshops where she teaches the attendees how to disassemble and reassemble the objects, items, and clothing they will bring to the event. «You get in a room with people that possess different skill levels – and some may have never created anything like this before – and feel encouraged to make whatever you like and whatever comes out from what you create. It is a learning process; there is no pressure to come up with a fully functioning product by the end of the workshops, which is a misconception when attending these events, but to understand that this is a journey. I ask people to bring whatever they may want to throw away to the workshop, so we can figure something out together on what to make of them, but sometimes, there may be a brand or sponsor that brings their samples and wastes from their factories, which we will provide to the guests to work on». From here, McLaughlin shares she has plans becoming an educator in the future, teaching upcycling via her workshops, a nudge that amplified when the public kept  asking her where they can buy the pictures she posts on her Instagram – to which she has responded that one should not have the desire to own everything – or when she will establish her brand. In her vision, she would act as the liaison between the consumers and the brands by tapping the latter to donate their waste and excess materials for her workshops, and such a concept has spurred the designer’s plan to establish her non-profit organization, a pursuit that has already commenced with no dates of its establishment yet on hand as the designer deals with bureaucracy and learns the ropes of running an organization. In the meantime, hosting workshops acts as the vehicle to amplify her upcycling craftsmanship.

How to upcycle what you already own

When her social media took off, McLaughlin had never considered amassing a following from her hobby – the fear of even posting a picture of her upcycling gripped her throat as she pondered on the criticisms Internet audiences might hurl her way. As she gained her confidence over time, she realized the need of having a platform to voice upcycling and sustainability, and the responsibility appended in such an online power. «That is my page: the hope to inspire people to want to create things in general, and take it even a step further as they take objects and things that they own and have and, instead of throwing them away, give them another life, form, or shape they can use later on». In the next lifeline of these objects, Nicole McLaughlin rouses her audience to form heels, soles, and paddings of slippers out of shuttlecocks; use body and shoulder bags and pouches and turn them into vests; convert organizers made of plastic and one may hang on the wall into a jacket with children’s toys inside each pouch; construct a skirt out of ziplock bags for sandwiches; and restores a luggage’s design from the jacket hoods used during the winter season. 

Nicole McLaughlin designer

Nicole McLaughlin is a New York-based designer. She is currently developing a non-profit organization that helps provide much-needed design resources to young people, connecting large companies – especially those with deadstock and overstock materials – to schools and universities in need. She is working towards leading a regular series of workshops with a continued focus on sustainability, and eventually, a summer program concentrating on education and skill-based growth. The curriculum will teach you that design is more than just drawing and making, but an understanding of ‘how’ and ‘why’ and what we can do to change the future.

Matthew Burgos

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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