Oh, you can see the air, oh, that’s cool.
This is the air of Nike Air.
Hi, my name is Nicole McLaughlin
and I’m a designer who upcycles things,
so I take old things and make them new.
And so today I’m gonna be taking discarded shoes
and turning them into a vest.
I’d say upcycling is kind of just working
with what you have.
It’s a resourceful type of design
where there’s already pre-existing things
and just using that as a base to create something out of.
I was creating these things and I didn’t know
that there was a term for it.
And then it started being coined
on the internet that I’m an upcycling designer.
I’d say my approach is to really keep and consider
that child’s sense of wonder.
The way that I would think as a child
and have such a strong imagination for things,
I really try to apply that to my work.
And I always just allow myself the freedom
to explore an idea.
So today I’m gonna be taking discarded shoes
and turning them into a vest by taking them apart
and I’m gonna lay them out flat just to get a feel
for what the shoes are and what materials I wanna use
and then start sewing them by hand.
So the first thing I’m gonna do is just lay down this vest.
I’ll be using a Carhartt jacket.
I actually removed the sleeves and made that the vest base.
I wanna see kinda what I’m working with,
in terms of material, shape.
Anything I wanna avoid like this pocket here.
Only ’cause if I’m hand sewing, if I sewed directly into it,
it’s gonna be really difficult to sew.
I really love this sherpa lining,
so we’ll see how that kind of meshes
with all of the shoe parts that I’m
about to take apart and include in this.
So I have a bunch of shoes that are half pairs,
random, just kind of used and destroyed pairs of shoes.
Which I think, color wise, it’s gonna
be really bright and awesome.
I get materials in a couple of different ways.
Thrift stores just around the area,
if they lose pairs of shoes,
if they only have half pairs of shoes,
they’ll be like to do with them,
so it’s been really cool to find another use for them.
So I’m just gonna take the laces off,
’cause when you remove the laces,
you can kind of see how the tongue is able
to move a little bit more
and you start to get a better feel
for what you can use on the shoe.
It is really like a puzzle and just kind of
figuring out what works and moving it around
and kinda messing with it until it looks right.
There really is no proper way
to start doing this or going about it,
but you just have to go with what the material’s doing.
I try not to alter it that much.
I’m not completely deconstructing it and reconstructing it
to the point where it’s not recognizable
of what it was before.
You know it’s a part of a shoe, you know what that piece was
on a shoe and now it’s on a garment
and you can really see that.
That’s beautiful, I love that. [laughs]
After college, I was really, really lucky
to get an internship at Reebok in Boston.
So I was doing graphic design for four years there,
doing classics graphics.
I was doing retro archive t-shirts
and Allen Iverson jerseys and throw back things.
I feel like I was able to understand clothing
and shoes a lot better because that wasn’t my background,
that isn’t anything I studied.
With just being surrounded by it, you get curious,
and then being surrounded by piles and piles
of shoes that were getting discarded
naturally made me very curious as well.
It was really the perfect breeding ground for what I do now
’cause it was like, there’s just constant material
for you to work with.
All right, I think I have what we need to start this.
Gonna grab X-Acto knives.
I’m gonna get a fresh blade on here.
And then this is the therapeutic part for me,
where it’s just taking apart the uppers off
of the shoes and being careful not to slice your finger off.
And then once the upper is off of it,
I obviously have a perfectly intact sole
that I’m able to use for other projects,
which I do make a lot of shoes.
And that’s one of my most frequently asked questions
is where do I get the soles for my shoes?
And so I always just say
every pair of shoes has a sole on it
and so do with that as you will.
And I’ve been taking apart shoes for years now,
but it took me a while to be able to do it like this,
only because there’s different ways
that you can detach a shoe.
There’s different types of glues and acetones
and that kinda stuff that helps you remove it.
I personally like to keep all of that.
I just think that brings more character into the shoe.
But then also sometimes I’ll go in
and you’ll see these stitch lines here,
which is called a strobel.
And so sometimes if the shoe’s not lifting up that easily,
you can go in and cut those and it will help lift it up.
The heel counter is always the hardest part
and you’ll see me probably struggling to get it off
on some of these shoes
because it has the most stability within the shoe.
But then we also might benefit
from using a scissor on it as well.
[scissor snips] And I don’t cut
the whole thing with scissors
because you don’t get as clean of a line, so.
But it’s good for those small little pieces at the end.
One of my favorite parts about this is seeing
a 3D shape like this go flat
and how the details that make up the shoe
gives it that accentuated 3D feel put flat on a vest
is just, I dunno, something about it is really unique.
Ooh, and the backside too is really cool.
I’ve been known to, to use the wrong side of the shoe
just ’cause I like the way that the back looks better.
But you gain more of this tight mesh material,
whereas the outside is very clean and finished.
I kinda like the roughness of that side,
but I think I prefer to maybe have that color pop.
But we’ll see what it looks like
once I have all of the pieces.
Sometimes people approach sustainability
with a very rigid mindset of this is what it has to be,
we have a target, we have to check that box,
instead of just allowing the creative freedom
to make something.
There’s so much that needs to be done
that isn’t being done right now
and just some really clear and simple solutions
when it comes to circularity.
I mean, that’s a huge word that is used around upcycling
because it is just taking things that we’ve had
for years and years and prolonging the life of it.
I don’t see myself designing any other way.
I think now that I’m in the world of sustainability,
I don’t see myself going anywhere.
It’s kinda sad, ’cause these ones weren’t really that worn,
but there was no friend for it,
so now it’ll be possibly a pocket or something?
That’s another thing with shoe uppers.
You could do maybe some type of pocket,
which I love to include in my projects.
Functionality is probably one of the most important things
to my creation process, kind of the through line
of my design.
I love pockets. I love being able to store things.
I love packing things and the idea of modular systems,
things that don’t have to be the same
every time you wear it.
Also, I switch out X-Acto knives pretty much
every other shoe just to keep,
make sure the blade is sharp
and you’re getting a nice clean edge on it.
I think the X-Acto Knife is just such a versatile tool.
It can lift up stitches individually
and kind of unveil what’s underneath it,
or just go really hard and just start ripping it off.
That has to be the best feeling.
Can you tell that how much I love the X-Acto Knife?
Because I do.
All right, the puzzle begins. [laughs]
This part is very composition based,
where you just have to move things around
until you start to like the color
and the position of things.
I’m trying to focus on the kind of,
the curvature of the collar here.
So I have this nice curve part
of the toe box that I can include.
And then it has more of a straight edge
where it is along the shoe,
so it’ll be nice and flush along the zipper opening.
And then just some fluidity within the arms here.
I don’t know if I’ve quite gotten there yet,
’cause that piece is a little too jagged,
but something maybe that’s more curved off
will be able to fit there.
So there’s some small sections
that I don’t have a piece for yet,
but I think once I continue to get the larger shapes,
I can start to fill in the smaller pieces.
So I need to take apart a couple more shoes.
[jazz music continues]
I’m looking at this one ’cause I know it’s
gonna be so hard to take apart,
but I like the color and I don’t have that much green.
I only really have this lime hit here
and a little bit of the turquoise,
but that green is kinda punchy.
I mean it’s subtle, but I think it needs it
to balance it out.
I’m just wondering how I wanna tackle this
because it’s gonna be tough.
[upbeat drum beat]
We’re here to have some challenges today, so.
[sighs] Getting a true workout today.
That’s how you know it’s hard to get through,
you have to use two hands on the scissor.
No turning back now.
I don’t always love to credit it,
but social media gave me the platform to be able
to share these things and ultimately make this possible.
The reception in the beginning was not,
it wasn’t bad, it was just like,
What is she doing? Is she okay?
Why is she posting these things?
And I still get that, I still get people just writing
on it and just being, Well, why?
And to me, I’m just kind of like, Well, why not?
I mean, someone has to put tennis balls
on their foot and call it a shoe.
Someone has to be the one to do it
and at least start a conversation.
Okay, I think I can see some really nice shapes
that I like.
I actually really like that I was able
to include a few full pieces of an upper
so you know what it is and then as well as the scraps.
I was able to get some loops in.
I was pretty happy that I was able
to get this Asics shiny running shoe in there.
I’m still not sure if I’ll end up keeping the zipper or not.
It really depends on how stiff this ends up being,
but it’s gonna be trial and error
for the next couple of steps.
Next up, we’re gonna do the pinning.
The pinning process is very important to my design
in anything that I make, whether its shoes or chairs
or I don’t know, any large-scale thing too.
It’s a way to be able to visualize
and see a final result without committing.
It also helps getting a feel for the material itself
and what’s gonna be harder to sew.
And they’re meant for just holding delicate pieces
of fabric together, but I pin them into shoes,
I pin them into my body.
Oh yeah, I’ve definitely stabbed myself multiple times.
‘Cause sometimes I’m just reckless.
I, honestly, I feel like
I don’t even recognize it sometimes.
I’ll be making a piece and I don’t even realize it,
but I’ll have a cut and I’m like,
Oh, shit, I need to put a Band-Aid on
before I bleed on everything. [laughs]
I just feel like it can’t be
that interesting to watch pinning.
For me it’s therapeutic, but I usually do this
while I’m watching Netflix or something
or listening to crime podcasts, which is usually the case.
[upbeat jazz music]
It actually was better than I thought it was gonna be.
I was kinda not super sure
just in terms of overall composition.
Seeing it on kinda helped me understand balance
and I’d say, for the most part, pretty well balanced.
I definitely needed those little two pops that I added in.
And then, yeah, there’s a couple
of holes that I need to find a little patch for
and then I feel pretty good about it.
I’m just trying to see maybe
if there’s any of these little open spaces,
if I have anything already that’s cut.
Like little pieces of tongues
or anything that might be able to snug
right into that space.
That’s kinda nice with the zip detail.
Something like that might be kinda nice to add in.
So I’m just trimming off some pieces to clean it up
a little bit in areas where there’s a little bit overlap
off the sides and just to start getting
to the next stages of sewing.
I’m actually gonna take a picture of it
in case something shifts or falls off,
I’ll remember where it was.
But, I mean, this part is very fluid
and if it starts moving in a way
that it looks more correct or kind of goes more
with the natural shape, I’m always open
to start switching up the placement of things
as you stitch it on.
I think it’s time to start sewing.
Hand-sewing takes a long time but it’s very rewarding.
Using a machine is faster,
but for some reason I feel like I lose the craftsmanship.
Something about the hand sewing process for me
I feel like I have a lot more control over,
especially with using such thick materials.
I just wanna make sure it’s precise.
I wanna feel like, I don’t know, I’m with the material,
I’m one with the material when I’m hand sewing.
So I started to use fishing line for these types of projects
because it’s really durable ’cause it’s meant to be pulled
and messed around with.
And it’s clear, so it also kinda melts into the shoe fabric.
That’s the best way I could describe it.
‘Cause when you’re going through those mesh holes and stuff,
it becomes so fine that like you could barely even see it.
There’s a very blurry line I have found, personally,
between art and fashion.
And people ask me that question a lot.
They’re like, Well, what do you consider it?
And I’m like, It really depends on the piece,
it depends on the day.
But I personally just appreciate garments
that do their job and just really function well.
I think as adults, we end up putting ourselves in a box
and we don’t always allow ourselves to explore
any kinda weird or crazy ideas that we might have.
And I was like that at first.
I was like, Why am I thinking about packaging materials
as a jacket, that doesn’t seem like a very natural thing.
And I was like, You know what,
why don’t I just try to make it and see what happens?
And if you just allow yourself to explore those weird ideas,
something really awesome might come out of it.
I think that was the last stitch,
I think we finally did it.
I’d say one of the harder parts was some
of these leather and suede pieces,
just naturally, the material is a little less forgiving
when you’re trying to stick the needle through.
But for the most part,
I think those open meshes have helped me a lot.
And I went through less needles than I normally do on shoes.
But my hands are super tired from sewing
and I feel like I got a good hand workout doing this.
I’m gonna just trim off some excess threads
and anything that’s left over,
but these are just some finishing touches that I like to do.
I think I got all the pins out,
but I’m going to do my magnet trick just to be sure.
I use magnets just to kinda feel around
and if it starts to pick up anything,
that means that I have maybe had left a pin inside of it
and so I move it around and it doesn’t suck it out,
but you can feel if there’s something left behind.
Which I just felt actually, [laughs]
so I’m glad that I used this.
‘Cause you don’t wanna put this on
and then get poked later on, so.
I ended up keeping the collar.
I think it’s gonna look good with a black shirt.
I’m just going to keep it for now.
I can always take it off later.
And I think that’s the beauty of doing custom designs
because, you know, it doesn’t,
this doesn’t have to be the final form.
I can still adjust it later and add things
or take things off as I need to.
I pretty much take everything apart after I make it.
I get the idea out there, I look at it, I capture it
in that moment and then I take it apart
and think about it in a different way.
And I’ve gone through many, many generations
of products and things that have been clothing
to furniture back to clothing.
And I really will work with an item
’til it’s just a piece of scrap that’s that big
and then maybe it will finally have its final form.
But I still think I’m too new in the process
to have final forms because if I continue
to do this forever, I can always continue
to use these pieces until hopefully something
will be good enough to stick. [laughs]
I’m excited about the finished piece.
It’s very intense and I like that.
I think this is more of an art piece.
It is fashionable, it’s wearable,
it has a pocket that functions.
But to me, it’s kinda bold,
it’s a little bit crazy to wear that,
but it’s the concept and the idea
of just using materials in a non-traditional sense.
And I think that truly captures it.
It’s definitely heavy and warm and tactile.
It’s like a bullet proof shoe vest.
It is daunting to think about the amount of waste,
the amount of things that we owned
and the consumer habits
that have been kind of instilled in us.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t take a step back
and choose better options or at least try
to use what we already have instead
of buying something that’s new.
There’s simple solutions
to getting involved in sustainability.
It’s really just thinking about what you have.
Do I really need this new thing?
And if I do like, can I keep it for a really long time
and be able to prolong the life of it?
And I say this in a way where it’s like
you don’t have to be a designer,
you don’t have to take it to the extreme that I’m doing it.
Even if you’re not super into designing
or wanting to create stuff,
there is ways that you can maximize
the things that you have.
[Producer] What’s gonna happen with it now?
I mean, honestly?
I’ll probably end up taking it apart
and making it into something else, but I don’t know,
maybe it’ll end up back as a vest someday.