Creating Radically Visible Garments for the Full Spectrum of Gender and Ability
Sky Cubacub is here to be radically visible for those who often find themselves invisible. Their brand, Rebirth Garments, specializes in trans, genderqueer, and disability-specific needs in lingerie, swimwear, and apparel, and has been embraced by performers like Kate Nash and The Vixen for its radical use of color and form to make the wearer the brightest, most visible person in the room. We met with Sky at their studio in Chicago to talk about Rebirth Garments’ commitment to making fashion that is accessible to all bodies and what that looks like when put into practice.
DRØME: What was the inspiration for the cinemagraph collaboration you did with Eloise?
Sky Cubacub: We were doing a play with “dazzle cameo,” having a push and pull between blending in and being radically visible. I love photos of my outfits, but all of my shows are done with people dancing so you can see that you can move around and that my outfits are really sticking with true QueerCrip dress reform. People can move in them and feel good in them and they get to show off their gender expression and the outfits are easy to put on. By having any sort of movement, it’s helping to show that part of the clothing.
What is most important to you about Rebirth Garments, as a business or as an art practice?
I guess if I didn’t do any shows it would be a sustainable business [laughs]. But I have an addiction to doing shows. I really love seeing all the folks in the community wearing my stuff. I’ve had so many people be like, “You’ve given me the strength to come out as queer!” Or coming out as disabled is also a thing, because lots of times people who are disabled will just deny their disabilities. I do think I get a little too obsessed with doing shows because I always get that feedback. People are always like, “I came out as queer!” And I’m like YES… It feeds me.
What is your favorite show that you’ve done?
The show we just did at the Chicago History Museum was really spectacular. It was a collaboration between me, Compton Quashie, and Jake Vogds. We had 24 models and Jake spearheaded this whole rebirth album.
The album came from an idea that I had about trying to make a performance that’s all about being accessible to folks who are visually impaired. All of the lyrics were visual descriptions of the outfits and of the people themselves, like their identities and the way that they dance. They always say that it’s really hard [to describe those things] but I wanted to be like “No,” and fully think about it from start to end. A lot of the time with visual descriptions the performance is just going on like normal and there is a person over a microphone just saying what the visual descriptions are. It seems like an afterthought, not something that’s fully part of the performance.
You studied performance art, correct?
Yeah, I did performance art throughout high school. College was weird and I didn’t really do any of the departments; I guess I was mostly in the fibers department. I was not in the fashion department.
I think the most important thing I got out of school was a thing that my dad said at graduation; “Well, now you know exactly what you don’t want to do.” I learned how to stand up for myself, even though I had all these authority figures being like, “You can only do it this way, don’t do it this way. Don’t make clothing for folks who are bigger than a size two.” And the whole time I was just resisting them and being like, “No I hate you guys! What are you talking about!” and yelling at the administration for racism and things like that. And my dad was like, well, now you know how to do that.
You have a dedication to being “radically visible”; you are not going to blend in when wearing something from Rebirth Garments.
Pretty much. I do let people order things in all black if they want or if they need. I’m pretty anti-passing, anti-bending in. I understand passing is important for safety in some spheres, but for me, because I have the privilege to have more accepting folks around me, I feel like pushing it as far as I can is very important. Then other people see it and start to accept it more. People come up to me on the street all the time, and I make a point to try to always have a conversation with them or be friendly with them. Lately I’ve been a little tired so I’ve been a little less talky on the street, but I’ve generally made that a part of my practice since I was in high school.
How do you find the energy to be working on new performance projects and collaborations all the time, on top of making your regular custom orders?
I just don’t sleep, it’s the only thing I do. I don’t hang out at all. This is my personal life [laughs]. I have very bad separation between “my work” and “me” because it’s all the same. I do get burnt out sometimes, because I basically don’t rest.
When I get burnt out I just work through it. I take naps sometimes. Compton and I go out dancing a lot. Well, recently because we’ve been so busy, it’s been like, no going out dancing. Just working.
Do you ever see yourself expanding Rebirth Garments to be a larger brand?
I think it has to stay small in order for me to make sure that the customers get as much attention as they do. Sometimes this studio is kind of bursting at the seams, but I think that it needs to stay small to make sure people aren’t having an experience that feels damaging to them at all. I’m very particular about the language that I use to make sure not to assume anything about a customer, whether it’s their gender or gender expression or what feels good to their bodies. I try to be as general as possible, but also find out what I need to know in order to make the perfect thing for them.