For New York-based designer Nicole McLaughlin, crafting eye-catching, one-of-a-kind upcycled pieces is simply second nature. From a pair of heels that double as a vegetable peeler to a streetwear-esque vest made from frozen waffles, her pieces are bound to inspire (or make you hungry).
As part of our Go Create project, we gave Nicole a Polaroid Go camera to play with. We visited her Brooklyn studio to talk about documenting her creative process, learning to make the most of what you have, and finding the magnificent in the mundane.
Developing: When does inspiration come most easily to you?
Nicole McLaughlin: For me, inspiration is everywhere. This is mostly because I work with existing items. I can look at the random items in my surroundings and they will inspire me for my next projects. I also get most inspired right before I fall asleep. I also get inspired when I’m a little tired, mostly because I’m not thinking about anything too serious. When that inspiration strikes, I’ll fall asleep and wake up in the morning and make what I thought of.
D: How have you stayed inspired over the past year?
NM: I’ve maintained my inspiration this past year by really going back to my roots of “making.” This means, taking the bare bones of what I can create and not sourcing new items, but using what I have around me. It’s been really inspiring to do the most with the least that I possibly have. For anyone looking to get into this kind of creating, I think that’s the best exercise.
Developing: What is the most important part of your creative process?
NM: The most important part of my process is the beginning stages of conception, and thinking through the idea, or just trying to see if the material work[s]. Photographing while I create is also one of the most important parts of my process. I share my work on the internet and people don’t usually get to experience it in real life–so I always need to make sure it translates in photos so people can grasp what it is and understand the feeling of what it might be to wear something I create.
“Photographing while I create is also one of the most important parts of my process. I share my work on the internet and people don’t usually get to experience it in real life–so I always need to make sure it translates in photos.”
D: How do you get out of a creative block?
NM: I usually find that exercise is helpful to get out of a creative block–like climbing, going for a run. It’s also helpful to just work through it. Even if you’re not feeling creative and it’s just hard to see your way out of it, you can start a new project to help inspire you through your block and problem solve.
D: What are your recommendations for people seeking inspiration?
NM: Fellow creatives that are looking to get inspired should take a look at what they have around them. Sometimes we don’t always appreciate the items that we have and own, but there’s so much to work with there. Also, we don’t need as much as we think we do–not having all the tools, knowledge, or skill set–we can create things without being experts. We can just try new things and see what happens. Even if we fail, we can get better at what we do.
“Also, we don’t need as much as we think we do–not having all the tools, knowledge, or skill set–we can create things without being experts. We can just try new things and see what happens. Even if we fail, we can get better at what we do.”
D: How do objects and upcycling play a role in your creative process?
NM: Everyday objects are really my language of creating. Taking in everything around me and finding new and alternative uses for them is the cornerstone of what I do. Upcycling is so important for our future; we have so much already on this Earth that we need to try and use what we have in interesting ways–it’s my main goal, so I hope I can continue doing that.
D: Can you share an example of how something inspired you, and what you made from that inspiration?
NM: Something that has inspired me has been the clear material from shower curtains or tablecloth protectors–honestly, I just really like the vinyl texture of it. I figured that if I use that to make clothing, I could put things in the pockets and show off what’s inside. That’s why I’ve recently been repurposing old shower curtains.
D: How does the Polaroid Go camera in this project inspire you as an object for your work?
NM: The Polaroid Go has inspired me because it’s so small and can fit into so many of the garments that I create and wear. A lot of what I do is highlighting functionality and the different purposes that a wearable piece can serve.
D: What excites you most about the Go Create project?
NM: What I’m most excited about is that this project is so fun and light-hearted. People can play with the camera and create their own stories around it. I make fun wearable pieces and I wanted to capture the fun that comes from it.
D: Can you share what Polaroid means to you?
NM: Polaroid is a brand that I feel like I have always had in my life. I remember playing around with cameras as a kid – especially this long skinny Polaroid that I would use and I had the best time with it. So, it’s been fun to have it again as an adult and play around with the camera and take pictures – whether pinning photos on the wall or taking photos of my projects in a unique way.
D: What’s your dream project?
NM: Even though it’s always changing, my dream project would be furniture. I like the idea of getting into larger-scale formats and being able to apply all the methods of making the fashion items that I’ve created and applying those skills to something that’s a functional homeware piece. Something that you can sit on and have in your space is interesting to me.
D: What is next for you?
NM: I want to start hosting workshops and teaching. The most important thing for me is being able to share all the things I’ve learned while making and trying out my projects. It’s so crucial to pass on this information to the younger generations as well as large companies that are looking to make a change in terms of how they produce. I’d like to help everyone think more outside of the box.