MISTAKEN IDENTITY: Three years into her consultancy with Reebok as a full-time graphic designer, Nicole McLaughlin personifies the Millennial spirit that sustainability doesn’t have to be boring.
Off the clock, the New Jersey creative repurposes vintage store and eBay finds into one-of-a-kind creations. The slides she made from a magenta JanSport backpack racked up nearly 22,000 likes a few weeks ago. And more recently a pair of pants salvaged from two Columbia Sportswear ski jackets were another winner with her followers. “I have two jobs and to be honest they influence each other,” McLaughlin said Tuesday.
Edging more toward concept designer status, she sees her role in both capacities as “how to reimagine something that exists.” The end result can be mules made from Wilson tennis balls, or an umbrella repurposed with The North Face puffer jackets. Nearing the end of a London-Paris-Amsterdam trip with Reebok, McLaughlin said she steers clear of reimagining products from Reebok competitors like Nike or Under Armour.
In New York at the end of last year for a three-month rotation at “The Farm,” the creative hub in Greenpoint run by Adidas, she worked with seven to 12 apparel, footwear, color and material designers from its Herzogenaurach, Germany, and Portland, Ore., offices. The individuals who cycle through “sharpen their skills and work on some special projects four years in advance as opposed to two,” she said. “It’s pretty intense but it’s really interesting.”
Access to machinery, learning how to sew, sketching footwear, dabbling in apparel design were some of the upsides, said McLaughlin, adding that she aims to be more of a concept designer at Reebok. “It’s almost limiting to do just one job, If you have all these skills to be able to look at a collection holistically and collectively,” said McLaughlin, who will have a hand in Reebok’s next collaboration with MISBHV.
She is ironing out plans for an exhibition with Wallplay gallery in New York and is shopping around a new book of her work. While Instagram is a platform for getting her work out there, McLaughlin said, “I don’t necessarily want to limit myself to that because I know that social media is such a dangerous game. I definitely wanted to pursue something that had to do with hard copy print. Once all the articles and posts vanish into the darkness, there will still be something left.”
The book would also be a vehicle “to show pieces that she wouldn’t show on social media, so that people would only see them by buying the book,” McLaughlin said.
Although people often ask about buying McLaughlin’s creations, she said that “gets a little blurry,” since they are often made from upcycled materials. “I always feel a little worried that if I started to sell bespoke products, that would be crossing a line. So far it’s been more about concepts to help people think a little bit differently about a brand or something that they have seen so many times. We’re just all so over-saturated with things. It’s a way to refresh and see something new,” she said.
Fluent in sign language, McLaughlin initially pursued speech language pathology as an undergrad at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, before taking a more artistic route. Throughout high school, she signed as much as she spoke English, which made her look at the visual world differently. A former collegiate lacrosse player, she first connected with Reebok through a yearlong internship and is now branching out to also do work for Reebok’s parent company, Adidas.
Brands recognize the possibility of remixing their own labels, as indicated by comments on McLaughlin’s Instagram feed. “To be honest, I’m not one to hoard my ideas. I’m putting myself out there and being a little bit vulnerable by putting this work out there. Anyone from these brands could see it and could potentially take the idea to use it. I would hope that maybe in the future these brands would maybe want to work with me,” McLaughlin said. “I’m optimistic that this could lead to some sort of partnership versus me getting ripped off.”