By Connie Wardman
I would like you to meet Sky Cubacub, the owner and designer of Chicago-based Rebirth Garments featured in Compete’s Summer of Pride issue.
Connie Wardman: Sky, thanks so much for your willingness to share your information with our readers. First of all, how do you identify?
Sky Cubacub: I identify as genderqueer or gender fluid, I use they/them pronouns but just prefer to have people use my name; I think it describes me more accurately. I’m queer and polyamorous so I have multiple partners/loves/sweeties of all different gender expressions. I’m a Hapa – Filipino on my dad’s side, white on my mom’s so I also identify as a queer person of color (QPOC) and as disabled, using QueerCrip (“crip” short for cripple).
CW: When did you come out? And how did you get started making clothing?
SC: I came out at 15 but started doing chainmaille [typically armor or jewelry made by connecting metal rings to one another] at 13. With lifelong anxiety and panic disorders, I first dreamed of this collection when I was 16 when I couldn’t find a place to buy a chest binder without being 18 and having access to a credit card to buy one online from a sex shop. My parents are both artists (my mother was also a dancer) so I love bright colors and knew I wanted to create intense sculptural garments. After high school I attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fashion Department. But with lots of racism in the fashion world, I decided to start my own business. I design and make by hand everything I sell through both my website and Etsy shop.
CW: Why did you decide to name your business, Rebirth Garments?
SC: Rebirth Garments challenges mainstream beauty standards that are sizest, ableist and conform to the gender binary. Instead, we maintain the notion of Radical Visibility, a movement based on claiming our bodies and through the use of bright colors, exuberant fabrics and innovative designs, highlighting the parts of us that society typically shuns. Through Radical Visibility, we refuse to assimilate and work to create a QueerCrip dress reform movement.
Rebirth Garment’s mission is to create gender non-conforming wearables and accessories for people on the full spectrum of gender, size and ability. The line creates a community where all people can confidently express their individuality and identity. When we’re disabled or different in some way, people tend to stare at us. Physical visibility is an important step toward political and social freedom as well as equality.
CW: You’re right – visibility is so important to the LGBTQ+ community. I love your term of Radical Visibility, Sky; please tell me more about it.
SC: I use Radical Visibility as a call to action to dress in order not to be ignored; to reject “passing” and assimilation. If you’re like me and have multiple identities that are or have been separately oppressed, then you’re still underrepresented, even in places that claim diversity.
Both the disabled and trans communities have very particular clothing needs that aren’t adequately served by mainstream clothing designers. For example, the only binders available come in black, white or “nude.” The ones labeled “nude” are beige so they’re not only racist, they also look like a Band-Aid.
Most clothing for people with disabilities is geared toward senior citizens; looking like hospital gowns or scrubs, the styling isn’t action-oriented. There need to be options that celebrate us in order to show that we should be valued members of society.
CW: When a person orders a piece or a full outfit, since you make each piece by hand, how do you get the functional fit right along with the person’s wanted aesthetic without in-person fittings?
SC: Whether by interview or my online extensive questionnaire, I ask what is most gender affirming for the person, what parts of the body they want highlighted and what they feel most vulnerable about in addition to their actual measurements. Each piece is tailored to the individual. And some of my clients are Drag Queens and Kings as well as other performers so it’s also important to know if they want something in particular. I also offer reduced price/free Rebirth Garments to queer and disabled youth.
CW: What is it that most inspires you?
SC: In my practice, the intensive handwork makes the process the most important part and gives me inspiration. Chainmaille has been the catalyst for every other medium that I excel in; all of the mediums I enjoy are obsessive and have repetitive patterns. It’s the slow, thoughtful process that holds value and heals my mind. Through chainmaille, I have found my patience.
I embody the spirit of Radical Visibility and Rebirth Garments is my soft armor. I consider it armor because it has the power to give you the confidence and strength to feel comfortable in your first skin. I have been building myself this armor or protection, not against harm exactly, but as a way to give me courage. Chainmaille and Rebirth Garments are a prosthetic for the communication of my inner world. My body, my identity and my prosthesis are one cohesive being.
CW: Thanks so much for your courage, creativity and willingness to share with our readers who you are at the deepest, most personal level, Sky. You are a true role model for all of us, particularly non-binary and disabled individuals who so long have been overlooked.
Check out Sky Cubacub on Vimeo.
Photos by Collectivo Multipolar