Sky Cubacub identifies as a QPOC, or genderqueer person of color, and disabled because of ongoing anxiety and panic disorders. As a high school student, they became interested in fashion, creating garments out of chain mail. “It gave me strength,” Cubacub says. “It was emotional armor.” A friend’s mother taught them how to sew unitards to wear under the chain mail (“chain mail was too naked for high school”), and Cubacub became interested in making clothes for other gender-nonconforming people.
At the School of the Art Institute, Cubacub initially enrolled in the fashion program, but soon became disillusioned. “The program is obsessive over the way things are,” Cubacub says. “It’s like you can’t change the fashion industry. You have to do it this way, you have to make size-two garments, cultural appropriation is OK. I was like, What the fuck? It was the worst.”
Cubacub “ran away” and studied fibers and performance instead. But they also continued to take nonmajor classes in pattern making and sewing with a focus on lingerie. In 2014, they founded their own fashion company, Rebirth Garments, in a studio in North Center and began selling clothes on Etsy.
Originally, Rebirth was supposed to have two lines, one for genderqueer people and one for people with disabilities, but Cubacub quickly realized that queer and disabled (or crip) politics have a lot in common: both groups feel mainstream society wants them to remain hidden because they make other people uncomfortable. From a fashion perspective, this makes it difficult for both crips and queers to find clothing that fits. Many ready-made garments are constructed along gender binaries (extra space for breasts and penises, for example, but none for wider hips or shoulders) and with fastenings that disabled people have trouble managing. And that’s not even factoring in braces or prosthetics or other devices.
“All devices look very medicalized and pathologized,” Cubacub says. “I want to make clothing that’s celebratory and sexy. It’s not just a device to achieve basic OK-ness.” Instead of using a conventional runway, Rebirth’s fashion shows are like dance parties, featuring people of all shapes and sizes, some in wheelchairs.
Rebirth Garments sells only custom clothing based on measurements sent by customers and tailored to their bodies. (“I don’t ask for clothing size,” Cubacub says. “It’s arbitrary and fabricated by the fashion industry to manipulate people and make them feel bad.”) Most of Cubacub’s designs are form-fitting and made of stretchy material—spandex and Lycra for now, though Cubacub plans to branch out into natural fibers, such as cotton—so that the pieces can be pulled on. Everything can be customized to accommodate individual needs: holes for tubes or colostomy bags, exterior seams for people with sensitive skin or sensory issues, or detachable pouches for insulin pumps.
For now, the focus of the line is lingerie, though Cubacub says that they don’t want to draw a firm distinction between under- and outerwear. (Most of the clothes can also be used as swimwear.) “I’m about expanding ideas, not putting them in boxes.” The best-selling items have been underwear for trans people: breast-binders and underpants that flatten the groin or have extra room for a prosthetic penis.
Last month Cubacub launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to expand the line, hire an assistant (Cubacub does almost all the sewing, with occasional help from a friend), buy a better sewing machine, and subsidize clothing for teenagers and other people who aren’t able to afford Rebirth’s full prices. Custom clothes don’t come cheap, especially when the manufacturer is buying material in small batches, and Cubacub is aware that many of their customers have limited incomes or, in the case of younger teenagers, no access to a credit card.
“I want to make clothing for all the people the fashion industry ignores or shuns or makes feel ashamed,” Cubacub says. “I want to celebrate gender identity and disability.”