“have a cozy new year” — Thus reads Nicole McLaughlin’s first Instagram post in 2019, an innocuous statement that neatly ties together the impetus behind the young designer’s initial design cues. In July 2018, McLaughlin began infrequently posting handmade footwear upcycled from unlikely materials to Instagram, demonstrating her awareness of sustainability by utilizing materials like unused tennis balls, Levi’s patches and packing peanuts. By January 2019, McLaughlin had drawn a strong base of diehards — growing from tens to hundreds of thousands of followers — who often begged her to sell each item she photographed. “The comments are like, ‘Oh, you could be making so much money. Why don’t you sell this?’’ she explained to jeffstaple on The Business of Hype. “I like having that authority. You don’t have to own everything. You don’t have to buy every single thing that you see.” After several of McLaughlin’s transformative vests, pants and shoes went viral, the customizer joined forces with Depop for live events and Ignored Prayers for a book, eventually taking the stage at several panels as an authority on DIY sneaker culture. In June 2019, McLaughlin left her role as a graphic designer at Reebok Classics and moved to New York, placing herself in the midst of a street-savvy culture eager to continue learning from her boundless creativity.