I first found out about Rebirth Garments and Sky Cubacub years ago when I’d first opened Spectrum Boutique. I was easily able to find gender-affirming products such as packers to carry in the shop, but when it came to compression garments like binders for the chest and gaffs for the crotch, I could only find limited styles in a limited amount of sizes and colors. As a new shop owner, I wanted to make sure anyone shopping for these items wasn’t simply limited by what I was able to buy in bulk from a manufacturer. I wanted our customers to actually have OPTIONS!
I decided to do what I often did in 2015 when I needed answers – ask social media!! Many, many people recommended Rebirth Garments, and I stumbled down the hole of cute, colorful clothing that is gender-affirming, and so much more! I’m sure I asked Sky about carrying Rebirth Garments at Spectrum back then (and as you’ll read about later on, it makes a lot of sense why that’s not an option) and came to the conclusion that instead of carrying these highly customizable items in a ready-to-wear fashion, I should instead link to all the awesome customizable apparel lines that are available!
As I kept up to date with new brands emerging or closing up shop, Rebirth Garments was prominently on my radar. And in this new year, what better way to celebrate new beginnings than with REBIRTH!? I had the pleasure of speaking with Sky over a Zoom call and had such a fun time during this conversation. The following is a transcription of that conversation, edited for length and clarity! I hope you enjoy hearing all of Sky’s thoughts on the fashion industry, inclusive design, and what it’s like running a clothing line that is so highly customizable.
ZL: Tell us about yourself and Rebirth Garments, and how that fits into your life, and what you do!
SC: I’m Sky Cubacub. I’m a disabled, queer, xenogender, neurodivergent, kind of alien person. I grew up in Chicago and I grew up in the house that I’m in right now. I’ve never left. I am very much a homebody [laughs]. My studio for Rebirth Garments is on the 1st floor. I’m on the 2nd floor. It’s a clothing line for queer and trans disabled folks of all sizes and ages that I started in 2014.
ZL: Seven years is no small amount of time, so congrats! What inspired you to create gender non-conforming wearables, accessories, and all that good stuff?
SC: I first really dreamed and ached for it when I was in high school when I was figuring out my gender expression. I came out as queer, although I didn’t necessarily use the word ‘queer’ when I was 15. I quickly realized there’s something else going on with my gender when I was 16, but I didn’t have the language for it. I was a co-president of my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, which now is called Queers and Allies, and there was a conference for the Chicago Public Schools, like presidents of GSAs, and there was a presentation by a bunch of drag kings on how they bound their chests and wore packers, and like showing off all the tools and pieces. I just was immediately drawn to it all. But then when I was trying to figure how to buy some of these things, I realized quickly that pretty much there was only stuff sold at sex toy shops for in-person shopping. I couldn’t buy anything online because I didn’t have access to digital money. And I just turned 30, but most people read me as 16, so when I was 16, I had no hope of trying to go into a sex toy shop…
ZL: Well, we’re the same age. I’m turning 30 in April, so, high five!
SC: Everybody thinks I’m 16 or they think my mom runs the business and I’m like, nope. [laughs]
ZL: In creating Spectrum, which has been in business just one year less than Rebirth, at first, I was stocking items like binders and all that and I was like, wait a minute… I could just be diverting traffic to all these other brands where the customer is going to get a more customizable, personal experience where I can’t take custom measurements as a retailer! That’s how I found you all those years ago.
Outside of binders and harnesses and gaffes and all that, we just started carrying more wearable items that aren’t strictly fetish items. It’s so evident in having conversations with manufacturers that there’s a lot of gaps.
SC: And excuses!
ZL: And excuses!
SC: So many excuses!
ZL: I know there are some really obvious ones like sizing, but what are some gaps in mainstream apparel and how have you stepped in to address where so much of our clothing and garments are lacking?
SC: Specifically for gender-affirming garments, when I was doing research when I was a teen and I just saw binders that were all usually just white or black or like the beige that was marketed as nude and I was like, these are hideous [both laugh]. Like, I want one because I want to have a flat chest, but I think they’re so ugly. Why? Why are they…
ZL: Utilitarian. Minimal?
SC: Yeah. I’m not a minimalist whatsoever. I’m a maximalist.
ZL: Yes! You’re wearing an amazing outfit now. People reading this can’t see you, but they need to know that you have beautiful makeup, earrings — everywhere from your head to your shoulders, which is what I can see on our video call, is decked out.
SC: Yes, I am always decked out and I have been since I was in early high school. Before that too, but once I met my first girlfriend the first day of school at high school and saw her dressing the way she wanted to, like super punk and super colorful and cute. I was like, Fuck that’s like how I want to dress. There were just two years in my life where I was trying to fit in, and I was wearing Juicy Couture and Coach Purses and stuff like that.
ZL: I had those years as well. [both laugh]
SC: I mean, I still have those, and I love them because I use them for an alter-ego character who’s the person I could have been if I didn’t meet my first girlfriend. I think of this character as the path of the perfect Filipina princess. It’s like, Oh yes, I’m straight [laughs], but it’s like, no you’re not.
ZL: There are words on the butt of my sweatpants. Look! I love it.
SC: [laughs] Yeah. I wanted a cute chest binder and then even by the time I started Rebirth, I still didn’t see any cute options. Origami Customs was open, but I didn’t know about them yet because they’re in Canada, and I think they started a little bit before me. I was dreaming of pink or pastel chest binders and packing underwear, and super geometric, bright patterns, and being able to have packing boxer briefs that were also super cute. I made myself some packers that were made out of my chainmail. I made chainmail out of chainmail stuff and then I chainmailed the chainmail again, turning it into a packer. I understand myself as xenogender, but I didn’t have that language until last year, when my friend Vieve from Vulpinic Vestements which is also an amazing clothing line, was talking about them being xenogender. I was like, Wait! That’s how I’ve always felt and how I describe stuff in my manifesto: Radical Visibility. I would talk about, why can’t my gender be a shape or a texture or an object or something. I’ve always felt very alien, so xenogender is just so perfect for describing how I feel.
ZL: I think it’s so cool that in your glossary on your website, you have all the terms kind of all there together. Terms that are talking about gender, then things that are talking about textures and scalemail and chainmail. I think that perfectly demonstrates what you’re saying where it’s like, why isn’t this all just on the same glossary? It’s all right there!
SC: Yeah, a lot of people were really confused about a lot of the terms that I used, so I was like, okay, I need to write something. I’m usually more into the definitions that are more open rather than gatekeeping and being too closed.
ZL: Absolutely. Well, you’re already talking about the binders, the packers, the things that — For so long, I would refer to them by specific names, and then I was like, really these are all just things that, as you’re saying shape and texture-wise, are changing the shape or texture of your body.
ZL: Why is it so important to have products that create or compress various parts of our bodies?
SC: For people like me, it was something that I wanted so badly in high school. I felt very strange about having boobs, even though my chest was very small. As a person with a small chest, the only bras that were available had an enormous amount of padding. And padding that makes your boob look like a fucking circle. It’s not boob-shaped. And I was like, Wow! I feel weird having these things strapped to my chest, like always, and I don’t know what to do. And so, I would try to figure out binders, and then I did the more, not-so-good way of being like, maybe Ace bandage? But I’m kind of too small and the Ace bandage is so bulky because it was way too long. I didn’t even think that I could cut it.
SC: I didn’t know how to do fabric stuff yet. I started making chainmail when I was thirteen years old, and I was a chainmail prodigy [laughs]. But yeah, very different! The first chainmail dress that I made in the first semester of my freshman year of high school, which I made for my final art project. The teacher was like, what’s a good way to say this looks like S&M? And, I was just like, haahahahaa…
ZL: That’s so funny.
SC: But I think it’s funny because now it’s something that I am into, but when I was a teenager, I was like, no, this is just my style! Shut up! [laughs]. When I couldn’t find a chest binder that was available to me, then I had the epiphany that I could just stop wearing bras. I was like, okay, maybe this is what I do. Over time and having the lack of access to it, then I did grow to feel okay with just having no bra and stuff. Now I like wearing things that are cut out.
ZL: You’ve got a cool sense of style, and I have seen other deadstock 90s items with the cut-outs like that. For the longest time, I would just be searching on Etsy like cut-out this, cut-out that because people weren’t making it. And here you are, you’re creating —
SC: Oh, I’ll do all of the cut-outs. Etsy has shadowbanned a bunch of my listings that have cut-outs.
ZL: Etsy has changed so much throughout the years.
SC: I know! It’s so hard because it is the easiest way to make a shop and sell to people.
SC: Eventually, I will have my own website. I mean, I do, but I don’t sell off of it. I’ve been working on it for a while, and I’ll figure that out later. I guess also, creating bulges. I was excited about having a packer. Half the time, you couldn’t even necessarily see it or something, depending on what clothing but just knowing it’s there would give me a sense of comfort and excitement and curiosity and imagination about myself and the world, and how I interacted. A lot of folks with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, who buy my chest binders because I can do anything I make with the seams on the outside or with different tightness levels. Some of these customers have never been able to bind before because that disability makes it so that your body doesn’t produce the “correct” type of collagen, so your skin can either rip or bruise or get hurt very easily.
People tell me if they want a tight bind or less tight bind, or sports bra fit, or something that they’ll describe to me like and I’ll work with that. Sometimes it’s trial and error. Everybody is so widely different, and everybody’s density of chest is different too, so it can act in various ways.
Lots of times you can dislocate your joints very easily, including your ribs, so most chest binders are way too extreme for that because they can dislocate your ribs if they’re too tight. I know you have a question about health, safety, and stuff…
ZL: That’s a perfect segue into that. Yeah, everybody’s body is different. That can be said of really any clothing item or any gender-affirming item. There are some things that we can’t wear 24/7 without needing to breathe a little bit. I can certainly also see how beyond disability, just having the option to have — You know, some people are more sensitive to textures.
SC: Oh, definitely.
ZL: There’s such a wide range of reasons why someone would want something custom, and why someone would want a compression or a packer. I know we’re not doctors here, but how do you explain health and safety to someone new to things like this and wants to know what to watch out for? What are some things to keep in mind when it comes to compression specifically?
SC: So, for me, what I noticed for other binders, like the more mainstream available ones where the texture was very rough and very uncomfortable and not very stretchy. Most of them would, to cut corners with manufacturing, they would just serge the edges, which is fine for loose clothes, but for things that are compression or very tight, it’s not great to have just a serged edge if it’s not a super soft material because — That’s what I’ve mainly seen on other people is on the kind of armpits area that the binders would just start to rub and chafe so much because of just having this raw edge.
I know a lot of folks with scars from that, but that’s just from the cutting corners of price for the manufacturer. I know folks who have back problems from binding too much. I mean, you’re supposed to take breaks when your body’s telling you to. I do tell people that if it hurts too much, or if it hurts at all, or if it makes it hard to breathe, don’t wear it and just message me.
ZL: I think what you’re getting at is that this is a corner-cutting issue. The things that create a better experience for the wearer require time and care.
SC: Exactly. It’s such a thing that should not, in my opinion, only come in ready-to-wear and standardized sizing because there are so many factors involved. Everybody’s chest is so widely different. Packers and gaffs are super easy to come up with the sizing, even though people have a wide variety of butts and stuff. It’s nothing compared to chest things. A lot of times when people go up in size, the pattern will become so much longer. A person doesn’t need to be 7 feet tall to be this big! I think there’s always this false idea of what the good-looking proportion is. So they’re like, well if you’re this big, you have to be this tall. But that’s not how people work!
ZL: As far as other types of clothing, it makes me think about jean-sizing. It will have an inseam, waist, tall or short, or whatever. And you know, even then they miss the mark a lot of times on proportioning. But it’s like, why are jeans (or even bras) so custom-sized while these other items are not and deserve to have that level of attention paid in the creation?
SC: Exactly. But also, it’s so confusing because it’s like, well, jeans for “men’s sizes” are the actual measurements, and then for “women’s sizes,” it’s like what? [laughs]
ZL: Yeah! Where are we measuring?
SC: Same with bras. They’ll be like, Oh! The band size vs. the cup size. And oh! You add four inches or blah blah blah and you’re like, what? It makes no sense. It would be great if all clothing just were exact measurements instead of trying to come up with some sort of sizing system because it’s never correct.
ZL: Yeah, why not stick with universal units that aren’t subjective or descriptive adjectives, like small, large, etc. Totally. Or with size, I see some brands make larger sizes more expensive. I wish peopled designed things in a manner that accommodates a wide range of bodies and shapes so that this wasn’t such an issue.
SC: I just have people straight up send me their measurements. I have a video on my website and linked on my Etsy that shows how I take my measurements. I technically have two dress forms, but I use them more for display or when journalists come over and they’re like, we want to see a thing on a thing and I’m like, okay. I do only flat patterning pretty much, with very little draping. I draped a little bit at the very beginning of my pattern-making learning, but then it just kind of helped it translate the 3-D into 2-D for me, so then I was able to then just visualize it.
ZL: Yeah! You’re a mathematician! (laughs) You get to do the fun math!
SC: Right? Oh my god. I know. This math I love, but it is also interesting because depending on how somebody writes something to me I’ll change the measurements and it’s just something that I’ve had to feel out over the years. I’ve been training my employees to do this as well. Now I have Calla and Morgan working on my Etsy so that I can do lectures and interviews and designing and things like that.
ZL: That’s amazing.
SC: There’s a learning curve and you have to have years of experience cataloging people’s measurements in your head. I have an amazing amount of patterns. I make almost all new patterns every time.
ZL: That’s a lot of work.
SC: Yeah, it is [laughs] — I don’t charge enough technically for my stuff, but I do have a strapless binder which is more affordable but can be more dangerous for some people. Straps are better a lot of time but also there’s a lot of people with chronic shoulder pain where straps are impossible. So, I try to write about that and be like, make your own decision.
ZL: Absolutely. I think you make a great point too about how it’s not just the numbers, it’s about listening to the language the customer is using to describe. It takes expert skill!
As a creator who has overcome this, what do you think about excuses that manufacturers use to avoid inclusive sizing? Sometimes I tell lingerie brands, Oh I would pick this up if you added 3 more sizes at least. And then, inevitably, I’ll hear, Oh, well our customers just won’t buy it. It’s not economical to produce. It’s too expensive. When I carry larger sizes, they sell, so why do people think this?
SC: Yeah, definitely because of fatphobia. I don’t charge more for the bigger sizes because I even it out and I make it so that the smaller sizes pay “extra”. Why should skinnier people have a financial break? I even it out so nobody pays more. I do a lot of things where I try to apply for grants or get money in other ways to subsidize my clothing line so that I don’t have to charge necessarily the “real price”. A lot of it’s worth more than it is, but —
ZL: You want to pass along the savings to the customer as much as possible.
SC: Yeah! I think it’s because we’re in a capitalist society, but I am an anti-capitalist. I am an anarchist and I don’t want to participate as much as I can. I try to get money from places like universities or museums who can afford it, and you know rich people. And then be like, okay well now I can make a ton of free chest binders and gaffs. Last year, I think we gave away like 11,000 masks, mostly to folks who were protesting and also for houseless folks and community, queer and trans, disabled folks. I think more companies could do a model kind of like mine. They could probably do it better than me. I just try not to think about it too much. I don’t do the exact math, but I know I need to get some money from some organization that has money to keep the business going. Sometimes, it’ll get a little scary. The day before I found out that I got the Disability Futures Fellowship from the Ford Foundation, I was like, well, I just ran out of money. I guess I will have to close Rebirth. And then like, the next day, I got an email being like, you got $50,000!
ZL: Woo! That’s major!
SC: Wow! So that’s how I was able to pivot to doing mask-making because I don’t typically carry those kinds of supplies because I only specialized in spandex. So, it’s like a whole other amount of supplies.
ZL: Yeah! On that note of running a business while also being an anarchist and anti-capitalist and trying to disengage from that as much as possible. What’s it like running a business, especially with a disability of navigating chronic health issues. How is time management and how do you break up your day, essentially?
SC: So luckily, I started with disabilities at the beginning of running my company, so it’s something that I didn’t have to pivot to later. I mean, I’ve always been disabled in like a neurodivergent madness way, but I didn’t have a more physical disability until I was 21 and my stomach stopped working properly. I stopped being able to eat pretty much for almost a year and I was just sick. That’s when I had to start wearing only soft clothing, like no jeans. I swear! Super fuckin’ tight, patterned Tripp jeans, like skinny jeans, and I was like, this hurts too much! I’ve always had sensory sensitivities, I think connected to maybe my neurodivergence, but this was extra and more extreme. I started Rebirth just a year after this stomach disorder started. I had been thinking about it for a long time, but I was like, I need to do this, or my head is going to explode [laughs], so I will make this line.
I started slow. I just had only me working on it, of course, and then I was still in school for another whole year, but then once I stopped school and I had my first show, I think just a month and a half after school ended. I made 25 looks [laughs], however mild, in like a month and a half, and it was just like, hit the ground running. Partly, it’s my neurodivergency that makes me work a lot because it’s something that I need to do to cope. So, it’s like I need to be moving. I need to be making something. I know some of it might be tied into capitalism stuff, but I think more so it’s just because of being neurodivergent and I need something to do physically with my hands or I jiggle out of my body. Once I was out of school, I designed my schedule where I would never have to be working in the mornings really on things. I mostly became pretty nocturnal over the years. With everybody that works for me, it’s like, however many breaks we need or anything, it’s totally fine. And it doesn’t have to be a physical thing. It can be mental or emotional or whatever. I don’t care. We’ll figure it out.
Because of that, then it was also a lot easier to shift when my father was dying and I was taking care of him and I had my oldest-time employee, Calla, who had just started. They were able to take over Etsy like a month after they started working with me. So, we just fill in for each other. It’s just all teamwork. It’s all teamwork, and it was very good because in December 2019 I got mono. I was sleeping 20 hours a day. We’ve been able to navigate it pretty easily just because of the way that I’ve set up the business to be okay with any of us having health issues. I just pivot to things that aren’t as physically intensive because clothing manufacture can be pretty physically intensive.
ZL: Absolutely. How wonderful to have people you can trust to help you run the tasks, so you have more time and freedom. I think you already made such a great point. For you, staying busy is part of the process. Sure, maybe hyper-productivity has an element of work brain toxicity, whatever. I don’t know what people assume, but I’m sure there are all kinds of shit people assume, especially if you have to sleep a lot. But no, when you’re awake you’re really working hard and you’re really in a flow-state!
SC: Every once in a while, people will get weird at me about my sleep schedule things, but I’m just like — I mean, at this point, I am lucky that I have enough visibility that I have this weird clout. I mean, I feel like you probably have the same kind of feelings about that maybe? It’s a double-edged sword.
ZL: Oh yes. [laughs]
SC: It is a little bit easier for me to be like, well if you’re being an asshole, I’m not going to work with you. Whereas before, I might have been like, well I need to still. People know my philosophy. They know that I don’t waiver from it. One of my best friends, Lindsey Whittle says that I’ve gotten so much work done that it’s like many people’s lifetimes worth of work. Now I know I’ve gotten a lot of work done in my life. Now I can focus more on resting and understanding what’s going on with my body and knowing when things are wrong. Previously, I wouldn’t necessarily listen to it because I needed to hustle. I think people are weirder about my perceived age rather than my disability.
ZL: I mean, just customer interaction and service, to begin with, can be stressful, and then that must be so uncomfortable to have to deal with.
SC: It’s usually not necessarily customers. It’s usually like universities or museums I work with. You know, they’ll be emailing with me and be excited and then they’ll meet me in person and then they’ll be like, Oh, you’re a child. And I’ll be like, no. I’m thirty, fucker! But also, don’t treat children this way. I don’t like it.
ZL: Or don’t just assume how old I am. It just sucks that it’s something that comes up in collaboration in that it’s like no matter what aspect of identity we’re talking about, whether that be age or whatever, maybe just don’t assume anything. How about that?
SC: Exactly. Yeah.
ZL: Who does that benefit? Nobody. What are some common questions your customers have and what’s the typical interaction like? And what are you hoping the experience is like for that customer? What’s your dream situation and interaction in that case?
SC: My ideal one is where I get to meet with the customer and interview them. I always ask— I do this with all of my models, but only some clients, or only clients who want to do it because some people don’t want to. They’re like, here are my measurements. Bye! Runaway! [laughs] If I could have my way, I would just interview everyone. I ask them what’s your favorite colors or patterns? What would make clothing more accessible to your body? What would make clothing affirm your gender expression best? What parts of your body would you like to highlight? What parts of your body do you feel vulnerable about? And then, especially for models, what parts do you feel vulnerable about but want to highlight in this context of doing a Rebirth Garments show? Because they usually have interesting answers for those. They’ll be like, oh I’m usually scared of showing this, but in this case, I want to be naked! And I’ll be like, yeah! So exciting! I like doing that the most.
I think they’re a little better now, but the questions I get are usually like, how do I do the sizing? Or where is the sizing? Sometimes instead of measurements, they’ll just be like, I’m a medium.
ZL: Right. Just “medium.” The concept of medium.
SC: What does that mean? You have to give me your measurements. That happens more for parents of kids and teens who are getting chest binders or gaffs. I’m just like, you have to measure your kid. I’m sorry. Please. I don’t want to hurt them. They are still growing.
ZL: Yeah! What are the most popular items you’re selling these days?
SC: I mean, it’s like 95% bandeau strip binders that are so simple. People like to just try out what the cheapest thing is which is fine. That’s why I have it. That’s one of my ways to make it financially accessible. Anybody can always message me and ask for a free whatever, and I’ll try to make it work and I’ll just try to get funding from somebody or call a friend and be like, I need money [laughs]
ZL: It’s hard to drop a bunch of cash on something that you’re not sure is gonna work for your body. So, I think that makes a lot of sense and it’s nice that you can have something that’s seemingly, relatively easy to manufacture that can be your top-selling item.
We already talked about censorship with Etsy which I know all about, especially with any adult toymakers for sure, it’s like— you’ll just see ‘censored’ over a packer or something like that. How does social media play a role? What hoops have you had to jump through thanks to the current overlords of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter? How does that impact your work?
SC: It impacts it a lot. I have had to make my Instagram PG rated. I sometimes can’t show just folks who are fat wearing just crop tops but are opaque because it’ll just take off the photo. It’s so infuriating and I feel like I try to make it not too wild or whatever for Instagram because of them being so fucked up. In 2017 I had a group of neo-nazis who were trolling me.
ZL: I’m so sorry.
SC: Luckily, I shut down more of the comments and didn’t have to see it, but they were affecting me in real ways that were affecting my business. In 2017 I didn’t have a lot of money because I had run the Kickstarter in 2016 and it ended, and I bought all these materials and stuff like that, and I didn’t remember to save money for taxes, and I was fucked.
ZL: Oh, we’ve all been there. Yes.
SC: Oh! I owed $4,000 in taxes. I didn’t know that was a thing. So, the neo-nazis found me on YouTube. My Kickstarter video was on YouTube and they got really scary and they were saying really bad comments that I won’t repeat, but I made it so that they couldn’t comment anymore, but then they found my TinyLetter through Mailchimp or whatever and got that shut down which is just so strange. So, I don’t have an online newsletter because when I then messaged Mailchimp and I was like, what the fuck? Why did you listen to these people? And they’re like, oh, well it looks like you never had an account with us. And I’m like, I did for a year, and I have the emails that I sent through it. What are you talking about? So, I lost all those contacts which sucked because I had a thousand people on my news list.
ZL: Attacked on multiple fronts.
SC: And then, after that worked, they were attacking my Instagram, but they weren’t leaving comments. They were just flagging every single thing that I posted. So, I couldn’t post anything with a humanoid at all for many weeks and I lost so much business. I was struggling. I had to have like a million people tag Instagram and scream at them. The first photo it took down was me and a model who is Muslim and POC and disabled and non-binary and a wheelchair user. They were wearing modest wear, so they were wearing like a hijab and like completely covered. This isn’t a nakedness problem because they are more covered than anything else on my whole website. And then another picture was of me with two people I was dating at the time. Me with a girl, like a trans girl— but we were covered, and they took that down. And then the silliest one was me with a hand brace being like— I kind of injured myself but I was wearing more clothes than I usually wear. I was like, okay this is getting ridiculous. What is happening? That all happened in succession, so I knew it was connected. It wasn’t random.
ZL: Totally. What you’re bringing up too is that it’s not just the algorithms or the moderators, it’s the human spectator. The algorithm knows, well if these many people are doing this thing, then, oh well I guess we’re gonna add more of this type of content to our banned content because clearly, people don’t like it. It’s all bullshit. It all sucks. I’m sorry that’s so stressful being flooded with any type of comment, especially when it’s abusive or inflammatory. I’m glad that is seemingly in the past— I think it’s important for people to know though. That’s what it’s like running a small business and especially a business where you stand out positively. It also gets that negative attention sometimes. And I hope that now you just get the positive fans and love and all of that.
SC: I know now they have the rule where you can’t show nipples if it’s under sheer fabric. I can’t do that. They will still flag me. I have to play it safe. Now I’ve been working with the Chicago Public Library, so I’m like, okay I guess it’s okay that everything’s PG or whatever because it’ll make it easier for that. I’ve lost a lot of shows that I was supposed to do because all of a sudden somebody at a university was like, oh my god! They show nipples and butts? And I would be like, I could do a show that’s like no nipples and butts and they’d be like, Aah! But the fact that you’ve done it I cannot reconcile. So, I’ve done a lot of shows with no nipples and butts. Someday, I’d like to do a show where I get to just do whatever the heck I want again. That would be cool.
ZL: Yeah! Absolutely. I mean, you’re already bringing up a major theme that needs to change in the industry because, you know, nipples and butts. It doesn’t have to be an inherently sexual thing, especially when you’re just trying to show how something can exist on a body. What are some top issues in the industry you’d like to change soon? Whether it’s intimate apparel or just apparel at large or people who are creating specifically gender-affirmation items in a more utilitarian way.
SC: I mean, number one, I would love the not gendering garments, but not being like this is unisex in like a weird way where then everything turns grey and you’re like, oh no. Why? I just would love at stores for there to be a pants section, a shirts section, a skirts section, a dress section. I think it would make it a lot easier to find things, so it makes more sense. And then you would just do kind of like jeans where it’s more sizing that is actual measurements rather than made up stuff. I know measurements are something that’s a construct, but it’s less of a construct than everything else. I know with Levis, they started doing this thing called Curve ID for different shapes of butts and I thought that was interesting as like a thing that made it so that there was a wider variety of shapes. But they were like, this isn’t connected to how big you are. It’s just connected to your proportions. They were like, don’t assume that you’re supreme because you’re bigger, and don’t assume that you’re a slight because you’re smaller or whatever. So, I liked that because they were trying to take it out of being like, bigger is this and smaller is this. No, it’s different— It’s completely different shapes of butts.
ZL: It’s so hard to assign words that we already have all these associations with. Even choosing letters or numbers, there’s always going to be some assumption that people can project into it. And, at the very least, it’s cool to just say like, hey this is the system we’re trying to go by. I think that’s the beauty of it too is that we get to just figure out what makes more sense as we move forward as a society, hopefully. I hope! And I think you’re a big part of that.
SC: I would like brands to stop making excuses about sizing and being like, yeah people won’t buy it. They just don’t want to see people of those sizes wearing their clothing, kind of like American Apparel.
ZL: Classic example. Yes.
S: It’s just a way to exclude so that you’re like, oh well I don’t want people to see my clothing and associate it with that person or something and it’s just like, that’s fucked up. We all have to wear clothing. Clothing is utilitarian, but I don’t think that means it has to be a certain style in any way. And then for adaptive clothing, I would just really like them to hire disabled people to design the things. So many of these clothing lines are “adaptive” clothing lines that don’t hire disabled people or don’t include disabled people in the process whatsoever. Like, not even interviewing them. It’s like, you know, I don’t have all the disabilities in the world or whatever, but I interview everybody, and I try to find out what they need, and we test it. I mean, every once in a while there might be a safety pin if it’s a little bit too loose [during a show], but pretty much everything is just exactly how it is. There’s no faking it because people are dancing and throwing their bodies on the ground and things like that. So, it shows you can move in this stuff. I kind of hate both photoshoots and runway shows for the deception of what garments can let you do in your life because it’s like, oh great. You can stand in this skirt, but you cannot sit down. Who is thinking this is an acceptable thing to pay a thousand dollars for a skirt that you can’t even sit down in unless it’s like a complete sculpture performance art thing. I would love to see also just more different models and having trans folks who aren’t still within western beauty standard ideas of either passing or thinness or a more perfect “androgyny” than just people who are much more gender fucked and freaky would be great.
ZL: Thanks so much for all these thoughts! What should people be looking forward to from Rebirth and you in the new year?
SC: The second year of Radical Fit which is my program with the Chicago Public Library will be starting in January. It’s a queer, DIY, fashion program series that’s all available on YouTube. I’ll put the link. We have, right now, 75 videos that are tutorials of doing everything that has to do with the adornment of the body. So, it’s like clothing, masks, costumes, veils, hair, makeup. My photographer Colectivo Multipolar did a how-to set up your own DIY photo studio. Everything is with very accessible materials, but in the next season, we’re gonna have one on how to make packers, how to make chest binders, how to make gaffs. So, I’m just really excited because the first year, we had to do a lot of more baseline stuff like how to sew on a button or things like that, but now we can get into actually making these gender-affirming garments. So, I’m very excited about that. Everything that I do is open source. At some point, I would love to completely catalog all of my patterns and make them available. I just do not know how to do that because I’m not good at digital anything? [laughs]
ZL: We’re all human.
SC: I am open-source. So, if people want to start clothing lines or anything, people are always welcome to talk to me, although I have a lot of information on this Radical Fit kind of program so people can check that out. Usually, I don’t have themes for collections, but I do want to make this tropical cow queer collection. It’s pretty inspired by Trqpiteca which is the queer, Latinx, black, and brown dance party here in Chicago. They just have cute tropical vibes, but also my photographer Colectivo Multipolar works with them as the main collaborator looks great in cowboy hats and stuff like that. So, I’ve been getting into making them clothing that’s tropical cow queer. Finally, I’m starting my own kids’ show.
ZL: [Gasps] So exciting!
SC: I’m doing it DIY because I don’t want to have to abide by rules [laughs] and censorship. It’s called Sky and the Rebirth Warriors and already has a little teaser video with a theme song. I’m very good at talking to teens. And kids love me, but I just haven’t been able to make too much stuff that’s specifically for them. I mean, I think it’s fine for them, but some people are like, this is too whatever— You’ve gotta make it family-friendly and like, I think this is family-friendly [both laugh].
ZL: I think it gets easier to relate to kids the older we get because we have more distance between them. Sometimes I forgot I’m not peers with teens because it feels like just yesterday, I was in high school— but that was more than ten years ago so… [laughs].
Well, that’s so exciting. Congrats on all these endeavors! Thank you for your time and I’m excited to just keep the conversation going now that I have e-met you [laughs].
Find more of Sky’s work here:
Image credits: Thank you to Colectivo Multipolar for providing images, and to all of the models:
- Anna Landre @Anna.Landre
- Ciara Chanel @ciara.gif
- Dynah Haubert @llysiau
- Heather W @CleverFeather
- K. Brockenborough @derk.is.life
- Rebecca Howell @AnythingBut.Becky
- Sabrina Epstein @Sabrina.Epstein
- Sky Cubacub @rebirthgarments
- Vonne Napper @vonnenapper
- Walleska Barreto @wallewalle