Sky Cubacub Believes In Radical Visibility
Written by Vocalo Radio on April 14, 2022
“That autonomy of choice is so important to me and what I longed for most my whole life… I wanted to be able to provide that with my work.”– Sky Cubacub
When it comes to expressing their identity, Sky Cubacub strives toward radical visibility.
As a queer person of color with a non-visibile disability, North Center activist Sky Cubacub didn’t feel like they had a lot of options in the mainstream fashion industry. In response, they decided to make their own clothing line.
Sky founded Rebirth Garments in the summer of 2014 as a zero-waste, disabled-inclusive, gender-affirming clothing brand serving trans, queer, disabled and other marginalized communities of all sizes. They started the brand following the development of a stomach disorder which, among other things, left them with limited clothing options due to internal pain.
“I needed to then wear clothing that was a lot softer and comfier and stretchier,” they explained, “…but also felt cute and sexy, and showed off my identity.”
With all clothing made to order per customer measurements and needs, Rebirth Garments specializes in club wear, dance wear, swimwear, undergarments and lingerie. Sky’s work strives to promote conversation and relationships between individuals, earning them and Rebirth Garments recognition around the country, including being chosen as one of the Chicago Tribune’s Chicagoans of the Year in 2018.
For their episode of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Sky Cubacub discusses Rebirth Garments, their love of the city and how their art coincides with activism.
“One clothing line alone is not enough to destroy societal oppression. There needs to be something so widely accessible that anyone can participate. So, I suggest the politically forceful aesthetic style called ‘radical visibility.’ Physical visibility is an important step towards political and social freedom and equality.”– Sky Cubacub; excerpt from “Queer Crip Power” by Vogds.
Introduce yourself. Where in the city did you grow up? Where in the city do you live now?
I am a non-binary, xeno-gender, Filipinx American person with non-apparent disabilities. I grew up, and actually still live in North Center. It’s kind of a funny in-between neighborhood, but usually I just tell people Roscoe Village because they recognize that better. But I am living in the house that my parents have owned since 1984. I would never move in my life. I love living in Chicago. I love being from Chicago. I am extremely committed to Chicago. I think it’s the perfect place for my work and what I do.
Describe your work in a few words.
I make mostly gender-affirming undergarments, that’s, like, the bulk of what I do. So things like chest binders, which are garments for compressing the chest, and tucking undies or gaffes, which are compression bottoms for decreasing, like, a bulge. I also make things for disabled folks and having any kind of adaptive additions or subtractions that people want. So just being able to really talk to my customers and my clients and models and see what exactly they want to be coming from their clothing. And being able to make that, that’s what I, that’s what I do. My work is all completely custom-made to people’s measurements. It comes in any shade of the rainbow, but people can choose whichever colors they, they wish.
When I had my first Rebirth Garments fashion performance, I wanted to show it in dancing. So it’s basically a big dance party. Each person comes out wearing their thing, dancin’, showing off and, yeah, it doesn’t, doesn’t hinder you in any way. That, the clothing really does go with the Rational Dress movement’s ideas of being able to fully move, have full range of movement. So that’s kind of why I want to do my performances like that. So you could really show off the, the clothing and the models themselves.
How did you start Rebirth Garments?
I was 21 when my stomach kind of stopped working properly. I needed to then wear clothing that was a lot softer and comfier and stretchier. I wanted to make something comfy and comfortable and, but also felt cute and sexy, and showed off my identity. I wanted to be able to just be fully me, rather than having to hide parts of myself. Or, rather than only being able to show up as, like, part of myself. When I started the clothing line in 2014, I would tell people that I wanted to make clothing for queers with disabilities. There was this huge idea that disabled folks couldn’t possibly have sex, and therefore couldn’t have a sexuality, or even a gender. Which is wild to me.
Left: Sky’s earrings display a queer-crippled, or “QueerCrip,” symbol, the transgender symbol combined with a disabled symbol.
Right: Sky made their whole outfit — including their shoes, which, they say, are the first and last pair they will ever make.
What is unique about your clothing line?
When you’re looking up my clothing, like, online or something, it isn’t gendered at all, like, you’re not separating into a binary, like at department stores or whatever, where it’s like, “men’s section,” “women’s section” and “children’s section.” When I was 16, I was, like, super into drag kings and, like, obsessed with chest binding and packing, but I didn’t have access to that stuff. Which is why I wanted to also start the clothing line, because I… these are things that I would dream about and think about and, like, look up, but I didn’t have access to them as a person under 18.
I asked all of my models, and then any clients who want to — but, you know, not all clients want to, some clients just want to throw in their measurements and run. But I asked folks, “What would make clothing more gender-affirming to your bodies? What would make clothing more accessible to your body? What parts of you, you want to highlight? What parts you feel vulnerable about, and what parts do you feel vulnerable about, but want to highlight in this context?” And then, also colors and patterns. I have found, figured out that, like, those five, slash six questions are pretty much all I need to get all of the info from people to make a dream outfit. And I’m always down for, like, metaphorical things or just like, vibes. So sometimes people will be like, “I want to look like a Baby Spice unicorn,” or, like, “I want to look like a space mistress.” Or like, “Lisa Frank, something, something,” and I’m like, “Yes, I love all of those things.”
You can literally pick… every single piece of fabric that goes into my clothing, you can pick a different color. Or you can all pick just neutral colors, it’s up to you. And, like, that autonomy of choice is so important to me and what I longed for most, my, my whole life. So I wanted to be able to provide that with my work.
Do you consider your art activism?
I want to promote this idea of radical visibility, mostly so that other queer and trans and disabled and POC folks of all sizes, like, feel excited about dressing up and feel excited about being themselves and showing off their identities and talking about their identities and finding community. I definitely love the word “disability.” I think my work is as much activism as it is anything else. My whole thing is all about intersectionality, so I really vibe with all of the disability justice principles that, like, Sins Invalid and Patty Berne came up with, I really love them all. Ever since I started the clothing line, I’ve always made free or reduced-price garments for folks who need them. During the pandemic, I’ve given away, I think, over 11,000 masks for free.
How has Chicago shaped you?
I don’t know who I’d be if I wasn’t from Chicago. I mean, probably one of my most proud moments is when I was named “Chicagoan of the Year” by the Chicago Tribune when I was, in 2018. I was like, “Yes, I have made it! This is the biggest achievement of my life!”
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Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago — enriching us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.
Interview and audio production by Ari Mejia
Photography, transcription, written introduction and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca
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