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How I Am Building a Responsible Business: Nicole McLaughlin

'If more people had a scrappier approach to business, we'd be better off,' Instagram’s favourite upcycler told BoF.
  • Zoe Suen

As part of our latest Special Edition, BoF has produced a series of video articles with entrepreneurs and business owners on how to build a responsible business. Hear from The Rebel, The Upcycler, The Anti-Consumptionist, The Manufacturer and The Social Good Brand and explore the Special Edition here.

NEW YORK, United States —  By fashioning one-of-a-kind creations out of everything from egg boxes to volleyballs, Nicole McLaughlin has shown 455,000 followers that upcycling can be cool.

But the New Yorker — who also hosts DIY workshops and advises businesses on upcycling and extending the longevity of their products — reckons that companies need to get with the program.

“Brands that already had a sustainable initiative before all of this are going to be at the forefront,” McLaughlin said. “The brands that aren't considering those things and not making changes? It's going to show.”

Here are some takeaways from the young entrepreneur as she waits out the lockdown in her Brooklyn home and studio.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Stay-at-home measures meant McLaughlin couldn't source from her usual thrift shops and secondhand stores. Instead, she began tackling materials she had at hand, like tissue paper and plastic bags from packages received. "The past two months have been a test for myself to see like how far I can push my creativity," she said. "It takes me back to my earlier phases of when I started making these projects and I was just using what I had available."

Explore new avenues. McLaughlin panicked when Covid-19 broke out Stateside, as she had months of workshops, panels and trips planned. Since then, she's been thinking about how to take these events online to reach a wider audience, and considering how her business might intersect with gaming. Mass-producing her unique creations has never been of interest (despite demand being high), but McLaughlin has been giving thought to her business model, and using the slowdown as an opportunity to change. "I'm thinking a lot about made-to-order and preorder and... creating what the demand is for — not any more than that."

Newcomers have an opportunity to do it right. McLaughlin's advice to prospective entrepreneurs: "Don't come out with a beautiful sustainable collection and be like, here it is in a plastic bag. You can lay your foundation the correct way, whereas a lot of businesses right now are trying to backtrack."

Don't expect instant gratification, or make excuses about existing processes. Companies ready to change need to manage their expectations. "It doesn't have to be like an overnight shift. It doesn't have to be within production," she said. "It could be for [products] they've already created." For instance, it's never too late to introduce circularity into your model through a take-back programme.

BoF Professional Special Edition: Can Fashion Clean Up Its Act?

As the world grapples with an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, exposing deep-rooted social inequality as a climate emergency looms, the fashion industry must learn to respect both people and the planet. It's time for fashion to build a more responsible business model. Explore the full special edition here.

1. Can Fashion Clean Up Its Act?
2. Will Fashion Ever Be Good for the World? Its Future May Depend on It
3. How to Avoid the Greenwashing Trap
4. Luxury Brands Have a 'Respect Deficit' with Indian Artisans
5. Investing in the Sustainability Sisterhood
6. Why Luxury Came to the Rescue
7. The BoF Podcast | Jochen Zeitz on the Power of Fashion to Drive Sustainable Change
and more.

The BoF Professional Summit: How To Build a Responsible Fashion Business

On June 17 2020, we will gather leading global experts, entrepreneurs and activists in sustainability, ethical supply chains and workers' rights for a half-day programme of interactive conversations, panel discussions and workshops on building a responsible business, led by BoF's expert editors and correspondents. Space is limited. Register now to reserve your spot.

If you are not a member, you can take advantage of our 30-day trial to experience all of the benefits of a BoF Professional membership. Click here to join.

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The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
© 2021 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions and Privacy policy.