Sky Cubacub for Rebirth Garments was interviewed on October 22, 2017 by Kelly Reddy-Best in Chicago, IL at Sky’s studio space. The interview lasted 2 hours and 4 minutes long. The oral history transcript reflects the history of the brand at the time of the interview.
Oral History Interview Clip
Oral History Video
Oral History Transcript
REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, where did you grow up and where have you lived?
CUBACUB: I’m half Philippine/half white and I grew up in this house. I’ve never lived anywhere else and it’s in Chicago, Illinois in the city proper.
REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me about your educational background?
CUBACUB: I went to Northside College Prep which is a high school here in Chicago. It’s number one in the state and 12th in the nation now. Because of that I got a full ride to the school, the Art Institute of Chicago and I went there for five years because I got really sick in the middle of school.
REDDY-BEST: Tell me about your professional background.
CUBACUB: I started working for artists and other designers when I was fifteen. I’ve worked for a ton of artists and designers since I was fifteen. Both my parents are artists so it was easy for me to break into that world. Since I’ve graduated from college, I’ve only worked on Rebirth Garments. I don’t have any other job.
REDDY-BEST: What did you study in school?
CUBACUB: I got a B.F.A. and I focused in Fibers Performance and Fashion but I wasn’t in the Fashion Department proper because it was super racist and classist and size-ist and ableist and queerphobic.
REDDY-BEST: Did you take classes on patterning and was that through the fashion department?
CUBACUB: It was through the department. There are certain classes that you could only take if you were in the department, on the fashion design track and then there were the ones that anybody could take. So, I took most of the ones that anybody could take and I tried to focus on the technical ones. I mostly took class with a woman named Leah and she did pattern making. I also took ingerie and Corset making with her.
REDDY-BEST: You don’t have to answer this but would you feel comfortable talking about like your experience maybe in the fashion department and what were some of those negative experiences? Anything that might come up that’s specific or general.
CUBACUB: I mean the school itself has a lot of problem with racism in general. And the Fashion Department is just like one of the, I don’t know, probably one of the worst departments. Basically, our first big project was a cultural appropriation project, so that already is terrible, and then, at the end of the semester, or not even, in the middle of it some kids came in with their croquis which are the sketches that people do for Fashion Illustration and there’s one kid who had gone to Thailand and he painted his models yellow with slit eyes. No one else said anything except for me. The teacher didn’t even say anything. So, I was like, “okay, this is the kind of school that I’m going to and they’re like oh I’m from rural part of the world I don’t know.” I don’t know. So that was bad, but then there was also this time when I was making my croquis on the first day of orientation. It wasn’t even in the class and I had traced a picture of my body. I pretty much have looked the same since I was in seventh grade. So, pretty tiny. I traced it and my teacher came up to me and was like, “ugh, you have to like put this person on a diet they have fat footballer’s neck.” Then they took a pen and drew on it and made the neck so tiny. I wanted to make clothing for people of every single size and they thought that my drawings of just me were fat in a negative way and not in a positive way. So, I was like, “they’re really screwed up.” I couldn’t deal with them, but my collaborator, Compton, was in the Fashion Department there and somehow, they did it. I don’t know how.
REDDY-BEST: You had said that they were queerphobic, can you just talk a little bit about that as well?
CUBACUB: People at our school just didn’t understand trans folks. It wasn’t too bad in my classes but I’ve heard more things, just like, you know wanting to make a dress for a person who’s assigned male at birth and people were like, “whoa, what?” When I took the lingerie class, it was really funny because I was the only, I don’t know, non-binary. There were not any assigned male at birth folks there that was all AFAB folks and I was the only like queer or, out queer at that time and so I was making my queer [unintelligible]. That was the start of Rebirth. I had thought of it in high school and I had been dreaming about it but I didn’t have like the resources to do it. But then, when I was in the lingerie class I was like, “even though I could probably figure this out on my own, at some other point, I’m going to use this time to like really focus and think about starting this line for real.” Everybody else was like making bridal lingerie and it was really funny. They were all really confused, but the teacher, that teacher was actually pretty supportive because they were like, “Oh, I’m just teaching a technical class so I’m not going to say anything about your designs. I’ll just support you in whatever design you want to do.” Which I feel like is what the teachers should do but, I don’t know. And it’s so funny now because now that I’ve gotten some visibility and some fame just in Chicago, now all the teachers are telling their students about me and bragging about me. I’m just like, “you were yelling at me about this- you didn’t help me at all, except for the fact that I saw you be so racist that I was like I have to fight against you as hard as possible.” That’s how they helped.
REDDY-BEST: It is a big problem for sure.
CUBACUB: Yeah, I remember when I had to make a slip dress for lingerie. I was cool with it but then I was like, “ugh, I don’t, I just really don’t want to make a slip dress,” but then I figured out my own way to queer it that wasn’t just like, “oh, stick a heteronormative slip on an AMAB person,” or something like that. I wanted to come up with my own and then I felt really good about it so it was like okay well that was a fun challenge but yeah, all of people are not like expecting that at all.
REDDY-BEST: And then, uh, what term do you use to describe your gender identity?
CUBACUB: I, I, I fluctuate so I feel like I’m very gender fluid and then I also feel, I don’t really say this much but I do feel very agender, like just not gendered at all umm, I do have some like folks inside of me that are like a little more masc. or a little bit more fem. but um for me I just feel not gendered I’m just Sky.
REDDY-BEST What term do you use to describe your sexual identity?
CUBACUB: Just straight up queer.
REDDY-BEST: And has that ever shifted throughout your life?
CUBACUB: Oh definitely. It’s constantly shifting but now I feel pretty settled in it. When I first came out I was like, “I’m bi”, and I was fifteen and that was just because I had my first girlfriend. I was completely in love with her, and I was just like, “okay, I guess I’m bi and she’s bi.” But then she was always talking about boys all the time, and I got so jealous and I was like, “Ugh, I hate this. I’m going to be just gay, and just a lesbian. None of those identities waiver.” But then I really quickly felt super-boxed in and was like, “Oh, I feel super uncomfortable with this. I guess, I’m just ‘whatever’ about everything.” Pretty soon after that I’ve figured out the word “queer” more and that got more widely used and, got reclaimed more.
REDDY-BEST: And then, how would you describe your personal clothing style?
CUBACUB: Very colorful, geometric, I wear lots of my chainmail, I basically most of the time wear all of the clothing, like if I’m going out to anything I only wear stuff that I make and sometimes little details of things that are inside of me but pretty much only that. And then when I’m in the studios sometimes I’m just wearing pajamas but I’m working on a set of studio clothing for myself so I can also be wearing Rebirth while I’m working.
REDDY-BEST: What was you experience when you shopped for clothes or styled yourself before starting Rebirth Garment?
CUBACUB: I grew up mostly on thrift store clothes or, on clothing that my grandmother made for me when I was little. My Philippino grandmother, she sewed me like a billion dresses and they were all sky print because my mom would go to Vogue fabrics and just pick out every single kind of sky print that they had. I had like fifty dresses that were all like different kinds of clouds, or moons, or suns, or stars, because of my name. That’s Sky! Then she’d make me a matching purse to carry my tissues in. So that was like my childhood, and then I was just like, “I hate dresses” when I was five years and then just wore leggings because it was the nineties, you know? It was just wearing leggings and turtlenecks or something. And then my best friend from grade school, Frankie, she was seen very much as a tomboy. Everyone would always misgender her and be like, “you’re a boy, get out of here! Get out of the girl’s bathroom!” And we’re like, “She’s a girl get over it, but also why do you care?” So, like I was always around her and she was like the classic nineties butch-dyke, wearing like cargo shorts and Birkenstocks and I would just be wearing straight-up rainbows. So, I don’t know. I had really long hair below my butt up until high school, but I felt very, I don’t know, I just was always drawn to colorful clothing. When I was in high school and you know, came out and stuff. Then I became like Gay-Straight Alliance president and we saw some drag kings give a talk at a conference and they were telling us about binding and packers and putting on facial hair and I got so excited. That’s like all I wanted to do always, but I didn’t have the resources. So basically, I just felt very frustrated because Frankie was always a lot bigger than me so she could fit into boy’s clothing easier. Then for me I just could never really fit into, my shoulders are too tiny so I just looked goofy. So, I don’t know, I wore mostly costumes in high school and then I felt upset that I couldn’t look like masc. at all. And then I stopped wearing a bra pretty fast I was just like this is goofy, why would I wear like a padded bra? It makes me feel weird? I can’t find any things that feel comfortable and so the way that I compromised was just by not wearing one ever. I really wanted to bind, but I couldn’t because they were not accessible since they could only be bought either online with like a credit card, which I didn’t have, or at a sex toy shop and you can’t be under eighteen going there. So, I think for a while I was really distraught about not being able to bind. But then I just kind of made peace with just not wearing a bra and feeling free that way. But that lead me into my clothing line.
REDDY-BEST: No, it’s good we try to like understand the connection that each individual has to their clothing line. Usually there’s like a really strong connection right, between the personal experiences and founding the fashion line.
CUBACUB: Yeah, exactly. This is a completely personal project and I just am sharing it with other folks, but it’s like deeply personal for me. And it’s all just because I couldn’t buy like a binder or that I was really obsessed with like packing garments and I couldn’t buy one of those in high school. I wanted to make a line that was both like very celebratory-looking and not like, you know, pathologizing, very medical garment look. You know how most binders look very medical. They are only in like, white, black, or nude but it’s like racist nude. I mean now it’s a little bit better but at the time so and I, I wanted to make it so that teenagers, if they wanted they could reach out to me and I could do either sliding scale or just give them a binder or tucking garment for free. So that’s what I, my goal is.
REDDY-BEST: You talked about this a little bit but how did the idea for Rebirth Garments come about, is there anything else you can add to that?
CUBACUB: Umm, I guess so at first it was going to be two separate lines. I was thinking about underwear or undergarments, specifically lingerie for trans folks and then I was thinking about clothing for folks with disabilities. And like, I don’t know, so I had this these ideas of two separate lines but then pretty quickly like in that week that I was thinking about this, I was like, why would I separate them? They should just be merged and then I could also do very intersectional stuff like lingerie for folks with disabilities and trans folks with disabilities and also centering POC folks and fat folks in celebratory ways. Yeah, so that’s how it happened. But then everyone was so angry at me for some reason at my school. They were like, why you would ever put queerness with disability? And I was like, I’m not. They were like, we fought so hard to not have queerness seen as a disability and I’m like, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m not saying that queerness is a disability. I’m saying that there are queers with disabilities that I want to clothe.
REDDY-BEST: So, you said you had the idea started in high school, do you remember what year?
CUBACUB: Yeah, probably when I was like sixteen, so I was making all the paper stuff in the back and chainmail clothing, like that little dress, that was my first one that I made when I was fifteen. So, I was making clothing very early on.
REDDY-BEST: You said there was a week where you were thinking about two brands, what year was that?
CUBACUB: So, that was, sorry I always get confused about years.
REDDY-BEST: It’s 2017 right now. Wait, what year is it right now? It’s twenty-seventeen.
CUBACUB: I think it was 2014. So, I graduated college in 2015 in May and yeah. So, it was summer of 2014 that started making it. I just did a couple of interviews with folks who were more binary-trans and a friend who is a wheel chair user and then I just started making the garments.
REDDY-BEST: And when you say interview, do you mean asking them about what they would want and like design needs?
CUBACUB: Yeah, yeah.
REDDY-BEST: What were some of the things that were emerging from what they had said? Is there anything that they were specifically like, this is like what I need and this is what is not available to me in the market.
CUBACUB: Yeah, so I basically do the same thing as this interview, only it’s a more condensed version for every person that I make a garment for. Unless it’s just a singular piece but, if it’s a whole-body thing I ask them: what would make clothing more accessible to your body? What would make clothing express your gender the best? What parts of your body do you feel vulnerable about? What parts of your body do you like to highlight and then what parts of your body do you feel vulnerable about but want to highlight in this context? I get such a range of things, so you know folks who have like a calf bag or something need to have some sort of hole. Or another example is, I made this like mermaid tail lingerie and its thigh-high because it couldn’t go all the way up because it needs to have an escape route for like a catheter-line. But then it makes it kind of sexier that way because it’s thigh-highs. I have made stuff with pockets for folks with type 1 diabetes who have to wear a pump. I’ve made things for me. I need stretchy clothes cause my stomach hurts a lot all the time, so I can’t really wear anything that is tight and stiff. I can’t wear jeans at all anymore. And when I was younger seams drove me completely crazy and they drive lots of folks crazy who are on the Autism spectrum or have other kinds of sensory sensitivities. In that case, I’ll do ones where the seams are on the outside. My seams are pretty soft so I can actually handle them touching my skin, but like most other clothing I can’t so I will make ones with them on the outside.
REDDY-BEST: Would you say that before you interview each person or as you’re asking each person questions, that it’s pretty unique? Each person is pretty unique and they have individual needs that you try to highlight those needs in the garment design? I was just thinking how there is this mass generalization of how bodies should look on the market right now.
CUBACUB: No, I hate any kind of generalization of anything and I never assume anything of anybody’s bodies. So yeah, I always want to make it so perfect for your body and like lots of this stuff ends up you know working out for other, other peoples’ bodies as well, so that it’s kind of a fun exercise, but I, I really do prefer making it exactly for the person so that they can have it to their specifications. I take every single measurement possible. I take vertical measurements too, for example, I’m shorter waisted with like longer legs. Everyone is so differently shaped and I don’t have a standard size. I think I started off by patterning my own body and getting really used to that and then I just went from there. Umm, or uh, I’ll like pattern umm, a couple of friend’s bodies and then like waiver from those but it’s like I don’t I’m not like, oh, my Compton body person like. I just like always do new like whole new pattern for each person and then I umm, yeah, I have no sizes on my website, it’s just give me your measurements.
REDDY-BEST: And what is the significance of the name?
CUBACUB: I had a rebirthing ceremony for myself. In May, it’ll be five years since it. So, I’m four and a half-ish years old right now. I have always had anxiety and like panic disorder for like my whole life and umm, there’s times in my life where I’ll have panic attacks at least once a day for years. It was just getting to a point where, in one of those rounds of severe panic attacks all the time I could not handle being myself anymore. Later I found out about this thing that Kate Bornstein says in a book like about suicide, about trying to prevent teen suicide, and being like, “I kill myself to not kill myself.” or like, “I kill myself to not harm myself.” So, I had a funeral for myself and had this rebirthing ceremony. It wasn’t religious or anything. It was just weird performance art goofiness but, it really did help me a lot. I don’t think I had a panic attack for like six months after that, which at that time was like I don’t know not really possible for me to do so it yeah, it was just all about like shedding my skin and like you know now I understand my anxiety so much more cause I have an amazing queer therapist but uh, at that time I just needed to learn how to like let go of some things and not let my anxiety like completely make it so I couldn’t function umm, yeah.
REDDY-BEST: And then, umm. You talked about this a little bit but tell me about like the model for Rebirth Garments, how does it work like how do people get garments?
CUBACUB: Umm, so I have an Etsy and then I also have folks who just email me through Etsy. I have lots of my clothing up on there, although I’ve made so many millions of things that it’s hard to keep up. I have like bunch of different binders, some different tucking undies and packing undies. People can buy those items and then they get to tell me all the colors that they want because any time there’s any color blocking, it can be in any color. It won’t cost more because I have to cut it out anyway. Folks will give me their measurements and then it usually takes about a month for me to send it to them. Sometimes it’s faster than that. I also have a lot of people who are in Chicago, like, different performance artists who will buy from me more directly and I’ll have them come do a fitting. If people are in Chicago, I can also like go to them if their accessibility needs won’t be met here. I don’t have an accessible bathroom in this studio right now. I am trying to like work towards having an accessible bathroom, you know, if I ever become rich. I do have a ramp up to the studio so at least, folks who are wheelchair users can come in and I don’t use any scented anything in here and I have the air purifier. I have scent sensitivities so this space is friendly for those kinds of sensitivities.
REDDY-BEST: So, when customers live far away, do they take their own measurements?
CUBACUB: Yeah, and usually it’s fine every once in a while. I’ll have a bunch at one time. It’ll be like, once a year, all of a sudden, in one week about three people will give me totally off measurements and then, I don’t know. I don’t do refunds if they don’t do their measurements right, but sometimes I just make them a new thing because I feel bad.
REDDY-BEST: Do you show them how to measure?
CUBACUB: I do. I have a little video that is set on private and it’s just through the link. I want to re-shoot a video where I’m showing how to measure on like lots of different bodies but, right now I just have myself measuring myself, but I’m not an interesting body shape.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah, Yeah, I know, I’m just thinking about all the times I’ve taught like design and you know what I mean and people you like we do a whole I would say week on measuring pro- you know what I mean, properly to get the you know, but you know it’s stretchy so in a sense there is some there’s a lot of ease in that way.
CUBACUB: There is a good amount of ease, but for the binders that are tight, if somebody gives me like a under bust measurement that’s four inches off it can be like, “oh, that’s not right at all.”
REDDY-BEST: And can you just tell me what a binder is and tucking garment is? Can you just describe those garments?
CUBACUB: Yeah, so a binder is a compression garment for your chest to flatten the chest. It’s for other non-binary or trans-masc. folks or, you know, actually anybody, I’ve even had trans-fem. folks or trans-women who might need to bind at like a work place in order to stay safe. So yeah, I’ve had everybody getting everything from me. So, a tucking garment is a compression garment to minimize outie bits if you have outie bits. That’s a language I use on my website. I’m always like, “if you have innie bits it’s probably better if you want to get a cotton liner.” I’ll have like cis-women even like the tucking garments if they are folks who want to feel more supported in their fat. I want the opposite of that because it hurts me, but some people who want support in that area, the tucking garments actually are kind of nice for them too.
REDDY-BEST: And then, what is about ah your price point that you that things might cost, or can you talk about how like how the pricing works?
CUBACUB: Yeah, yeah. So, my binders range from twenty-four dollars at the smallest, for a very tiny, tiny strip bandeau binder. Then you can get straps added on for fifteen dollars. My sports bra shaped binders, which I think are the most comfortable, and I like the most, are like sixty-five to seventy-five dollars for a custom. I don’t really charge more for, you know bigger sizes so that’s like a lot cheaper than, you know, most folks with bigger cup sizes have to pay at least a hundred dollars for a bra. It’s interesting because I get people on both sides – some are like, “wow this is so cheap,” and then other people being like, “no it’s so expensive,” and I’m like, “well, I don’t know.” I do the shirt binders for folks who can’t have pressure on their shoulders due to disabilities. For like folks who don’t have any money and just need to have something, I’ll recommend the shirt binders for those types of folks, but I like the racer-back sports bra shapes the best, and I do anything – you can have the seams on the outside for no extra charge because I just sew it inside out. Then the tucking panties, I think, are like forty dollars and up just because it’s kind of like each piece of fabric is alike each separate cut of fabric and cost about ten dollars. That’s kind of how I do it, but for some things, if it’s a super complex design then it might be more or less, I don’t know.
REDDY-BEST: And then what about other garments? How much would something that we might think of as a top or a one-piece suit, or you know a pant or like a bottom how much would those range from?
CUBACUB: I can do uni-tards from about $100 and up. I would say that when I color block it really fun the uni-tards are around $250 if I go all out. I mostly make crop tops. I don’t really have too many full shirts. I mean I have a couple, but I mostly have crop tops and a very plain one can be about $50 and you can make any of the crop tops into binding garments. Most of them. I do a lot of tops that are completely sheer, so it might not work out as binding garment if you also wanted it to be sheer. One of my most popular binders is like a sheer black powder neck binder that tons of folks get. Shorts are a little bit more expensive, they’re like $75. I haven’t figured out how to make a cheaper boxer brief, just because it’s too many pieces but I’m working on it. But, if any teenagers ever need anything they can always contact me, because even if don’t have anything I just want to make sure that teenagers are doing okay.
REDDY-BEST: And then you said that there was a sliding scale, can you talk about that and like your motivation behind that or how that maybe this pricing system has worked in the past or how you might envision that working in the future?
CUBACUB: Yeah, well you know I come from DIY punk scene so it’s really important to me that there is some sort of sliding scale. I try to be more reserved about it, of course for folks who just like don’t have the funds and that are disabled folks, and I don’t know queer-trans teens. It is actually surprising I don’t have as many people take me up on it as I figured would. I think people are trying really hard to respect my prices for the most part and that is really nice. It’s cool because I did a Kickstarter last year and I had a lot of people donating stuff so that other folks who couldn’t pay for it, such as teens who wanted binders or tucking garments, I could make them for free. I’ve made a couple ones for teens and the reason why I spoke about my high school at the beginning is because I volunteer there. I volunteer there most of the year, once a week when I can. I just hang out with the trans and queer kids who, half of them are also disabled, which is cool, and I just chat with them and make sure they’re doing okay. I might do some art demos, but now, it’s mostly turned into me telling them about like what queer life is like.
REDDY-BEST: Do you ever envision that you might have different types of products, or things that you might want to do but maybe the resources are not quite there yet or the materials aren’t available or something like that? Is there anything that you would like to do? Is there is like a dream you had about a line of stuff that you’d want to do?
CUBACUB: Yeah, I mean I definitely would love to make clothing with my own prints. I did screen printing all throughout college, but I have to specialize in only a few things. I know so many mediums and it makes me like, “whoa,” when I have to do all of them. I don’t have room to make my studio into a screen printing studio. But yeah, I’d love to get, I don’t know, probably digitally printed fabrics and I know it’s attainable but I’m very busy so I haven’t yet. I’m working on the Radical Visibility zine, which is based off of my manifesto and hopefully that will be coming out soon so that will be part of the line. It’s supposed to be this like QueerCrip teen magazine just because whenever I go volunteer with my high school students they are so excited to hear about all these different things that are so simple to me now or like it’s just like oh this is my daily life but uh, yeah they ask me lots of questions so I want to make a teen magazine that folks could get info from not just me, but from other queer folk like adults and also other teens who have figured some things out about themselves who want to share those things.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah, I was going to say like digitally printing but it takes time. I mean to get the print do the same, it’s a whole other element that’s a lot of time.
CUBACUB: I even have most of these you know? I have lots of prints that are drawn up from when I did screen printing but I’m so bad at computers that I need somebody else to do it, but there’s so many other things to do that I don’t even have time to try it out yet.
REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me about your role and then, what a typical day might look like of you? Or, if you have other folks who come in and work or volunteer? What does the day look like and who else might be involved?
CUBACUB: Yeah, well I usually have tons of people over uh it’s kind of like funny, me being the only one in the studio and I have a collaborator, Compton, and we’ve been like working together for the past two years now. Maybe it’s been a little bit more I don’t know it’s confusing, my brain doesn’t work with time anymore. Umm, but I’ve known them since high school and the really cool part is, they nineties sci-fi, slash, anime, slash, afro-futurist clothing. They work with me sometimes – we color block stuff together and this is like one of our first collaboration pieces. And I have my friend Jake Boges. So, that was Compton Quashie, they go by Compton “Q”. We always go out dancing together all the time and perform. They model for me in almost all of my shows and then I have Jake who is kind of like my all-around studio assistant. They know how to chainmail, they also know how to do spandex, they’re really fast, like lightning fast, at cutting out things. I might also have Jake do odd jobs because they do sculpture fiber art and performance art and they do a lot of different things that I also do, so I can have them kind of, like, I like to have Compton specialize because I know they’re really good at umm color blocking and sewing like super-fast and well. I like to have Jake do like lots of different kinds of studio work. I have my friend Austin Coquet, who is helping me with another part of our business, which will be accessibility consultations with venues, party planners, restaurants, and galleries because whenever I do performances, I always see what a nightmare accessibility is. No one knows about accessibility at all and then they always miss me because of, I don’t know various reasons. So, we’re going to have like this actual, official, accessibility consultation business. There’s also someone who went to school for this type of stuff, so yeah, she does that and she’ll also stage manage. Most people do a bunch of different types of jobs. During the summer, I have three different interns, and some of them get school credit, and some of them just want to do it for the experience. I had one intern, Morgan Hill, who goes to SAIC right now and who just wanted to do it on their own because they want to start their own queer lingerie business. I’m just into being very open and I don’t have trade secrets and I don’t want to withhold education. I mean, you know, teachers should get paid definitely but, I like to have everything really open.
REDDY-BEST: And why is that important to you, in particular, to share with Morgan? Because, you know, for a lot of folks they might not be as open about those kinds of things.
CUBACUB: Well, I just like think that you know I’m one of the only people, well I’m the only person I think doing like queer slash disabled uh clothing.
REDDY-BEST: I think so, because we scoured the internet for like a whole month. We have a spreadsheet of like every brand right that is somewhat either gender-neutral all the way to queer. To your aesthetic to suits to just binders, and there is no one else who thinks about people with disabilities- I really don’t think that, unless we’re missing it and we’ve scoured the internet.
CUBACUB: I don’t really know about anybody.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah, yeah because we’re trying to find the brands that are doing this and then I’m basically trying to be like, “look fashion departments, this is possible, you can do this. You just need to like think about the language and the people.”
CUBACUB: You can make money doing it.
REDDY-BEST: Right, and it’ll be serving a great community. The industry doesn’t have to be so bad. There are probably students who want to do it. And they feel uncomfortable.
CUBACUB: Yeah, I just like to be open because if I’m the only one doing this I can’t do it all. I have so much work all the time and I can’t keep up with it, so it would be great if I could point to someone else. Morgan’s really awesome at clothing for plus size or fat folks and I’m like, “oh hey go to them.” Also, they have different style than me they aren’t going to make a thing exactly like this because it’s not their style. My mom, I think she might even have a quote about it on her painting studio over there. She had one of her designs stolen by Claire’s boutique probably when I was around five years-old and she was so distraught about it. Legally, we couldn’t do anything about it because they changed three tiny, tiny things about it. But it was literally my mom’s design, it looked exactly the same.
REDDY-BEST: Claire’s like the earring place?
REDDY-BEST: Like in the mall, okay.
CUBACUB: Yeah, they stole one of her tooth fairy box designs. They’ll have little box things every week as the thing of the new design or whatever. They made one that looked exactly like my mom’s designs. She has a quote that just says, “It’s more disheartening to steal than to be stolen from.” So, it’s that even if Target wanted to steal all my designs, I feel like, “Come at me. Do it. I have a thousand-jillion more in my brain. Also, it’d be awesome if you just copied me and made queer disabled clothing, that’s cool. Do it. Please copy me, Target. Do it. Make clothing accessible for queers with disabilities. Monetarily.”
REDDY-BEST: There’s a market for it.
CUBACUB: And I know lots of folks with very large cup sizes who are cis-women who just want to have a binder because their chest is too uncomfortable. I’ll make them a bust-type bind or something and then it’ll be like, “I feel a lot more secure now like cool, great.”
REDDY-BEST: Can you just talk about your design process and how you go from initial concept to the final product? Could you show some examples or, just talk generally about it?
CUBACUB: So, I do the interview with the people. I always ask them what colors and fabrics they like and if they have any patterns that they like. Then I try to see if there’s any garments that they specifically want. Sometimes people are just like, “Do whatever to me,” and that’s really fun, but I also like when people are like, “Well, I want a crop-top but I also want a packing boxer brief that’s also high-waisted.” I really like when people will mix and match all their favorite kinds of outfits. Just tell me about all those and then smush it together. That like helps me out. My friend was like, “I want to look like a space mistress.” Words like that help me out. Another friend was like, “Baby Spice, unicorn.” I have ideas for that. This was a creation of mine, just from what I wanted or what I made. It’s a packing jock strap garter belt. And like I don’t know.
REDDY-BEST: Is there anything conceptually that you think about, like the words or inspiration. Do you start from fabrics or do you sketch?
CUBACUB: I never sketch ever. I hate sketching. I’m so bad at it. I’d rather draw my face, but I basically just directly pattern it. I flat pattern everything pretty much. I think about the person a lot I look at pictures of them or I watch them when I’m hanging out with them. Or I just pull back memories, for example, from when I’ve seen this friend trying to get through this door and their wheels get caught in their clothing. I’ll think about those things. I’ll think about if they want something more flowy or something more fitted. I mostly do fitted stuff for myself, but I have been getting into these more flowy things lately.
REDDY-BEST: So, after you’ve thought about the patterns, you might think a little bit about the person.
CUBACUB: Yeah, I’ll write notes.
REDDY-BEST: And then after you’ve thought patterned, do you make mock up?
CUBACUB: No, I just go directly to fabric. I don’t have any time for making mock ups. Once in a while I’ll make a mock up but I think I’ve only made two. I pretty much can visualize how the color blocking works like how I’ll like thought pattern it and I’ll know exactly what it’ll look like on the body.
REDDY-BEST: When you thought pattern do you have to reference like thought pattern text or do you like feel so comfortable at this point with block patterning.
CUBACUB: Yeah, I almost never look at books and even though I have some books out right now, they’re mostly for my zine library for folks who come here to look at it because I don’t have time to look at it. I don’t even look at fashion books. I was really into them in high school but, after being college and being so disappointed and feeling terrible, I was like, “I don’t even want to look at fashion.” I don’t look at magazines. I don’t even look at Fashion Week at all. I just feel like I should do it all from me and have it been what I want. That may be good, or may be bad, or neutral, but I pretty much don’t reference flat patterns or books unless this person specifically wanted a Victorian sleeve but they want clear vinyl. In that case, I’m like, “Okay, I guess I’ll look at the thing just to see how they actually do it and not have to make it up in my brain.” I think, because I did all draping on my body with my chainmail and stuff in high school, I really got to know what my body was like. Then when I was in college, learning how to drape on mannequins, but it was like, “well this isn’t my size at all cause like their chest is too big or something,” but then learning how to fit it to my body then, I really got to know my body and flat pattern the world. Basically, in my head I reference everybody off of my own body. I’ll be like, “Oh they’re a little bit taller than me in this, and a little shorter than me in this, and now, that I’ve dressed so many different folks, I’ll be like, “Oh this person is basically like my friend Peppa.” They’re that shape, so I’ll do it off of that.
REDDY-BEST: Do you start with blocks or patterns that like are you know the fitted one, the basic ones and then or do you just…
CUBACUB: I’ll usually do it off of some combination of random patterns that I have. All of my patterns are over there. They’re all hung up. It looks like a mess but they’re very organized. I have it by the type of garment, so the whole front is all different kinds of like bras or binders or crop tops. I’ll usually go off of one of those and then I’ll make it bigger or smaller.
REDDY-BEST: Where do you get your fabrics and materials?
CUBACUB: It’s mostly all from Spandex World in New York. I also get a couple of them from Spandex House in New York. I think Spandex House has this fabric that I use all the time, these triangles, this wood grain, and then this cloud fabric. Everything else is from Spandex World. Now they know me there like in person because I’ve gone there a couple of times and they’re always like, “what?” I’d be like, “I need to fill this whole suitcase.” I usually buy it online, but whenever I go there in person, they’re just trying to shove as much as they can into a suitcase. That way I don’t have to pay for shipping because I hate paying for shipping. I’m pretty frugal. I also hardly throw away things. For a while I was saving like every scrap of paper ever. My employee, Jake, made me throw away some of it because it was too much, but I also save a lot of my scraps of spandex. I save pretty much everything almost unless it’s a super tiny scrap because I’ll use them. I’ll reuse things in fashion workshops or I’ll donate them to my mom. She’s a Chicago Public School teacher and she’ll do puppets with her kids, so I’ll let her have all the tiny scraps and then they cut them in to even tinier scraps and glue them onto a paper bag or something.
REDDY-BEST: Can you show us some garments and then talk about who you who if you made them for? Can you describe like why the different parts are sewn the way are?
CUBACUB: I just made these little things for my friend Genevieve, who wanted to look like a dark mermaid. She uses a cane and she also wears a brace but when she’s dancing she wanted to wear a sling so I made her a sling that’s kind of an oil slick with some lace. It was based off of my friend Peppa’s sling that’s hot pink with like rainbow-y, Lisa Frank-style fabric. Genevieve wanted to have something more neutral, but it’s still like very exciting-looking. They feel self-conscious about their arms, so I put sleeves on it, but they are see-through a little bit for fun. I really love making sheer hoods. She has really beautiful hair but, yeah, I love having hood and then like wearing my head piece underneath. So, the hood is sheer so you can still see the headpiece, but you get the feeling of a hood. Then, they wanted a loose crop because they wanted something not-so-tight in their chest. My friend, Miss Alexis, I’ve dressed a bunch of times. She’s a wheelchair user and crutch user. She loves pink and I love pink too so it’s really easy for me to dress her. She also wants to look really sexy, so I always put some sheer bits in the dresses. Tight dresses work pretty good on her because the dress doesn’t get caught in wheels or on her crutches if she’s walking. U I think that these were my first pair of boxer briefs that I made for myself that were fun and they have a packing pocket but it’s sheer so you can see the packer. I make a chainmaille packer that’s very decorative and not referencing any sort of like human-ness because I’m more interested in that. I think I talked about these earlier. These are mermaid tail thigh highs. I love this. I know all the little thigh-high bits have like fallen off. They get lost during the shows some people are just throwing them like the garter parts. But, this was made for my friend, Carrie Koffman, who wanted to look like a sexy mermaid. I’m really into mermaids, so I love when people want me to do something like that. I made her this mono thigh-high and since she’s like a wheel chair user she can just like wear this around on like a daily basis if she wanted. She gets to do a fun thing that like folks who are walking don’t get to do. Here’s the skirt that it came with, so it has the garter-like things that the little garter clips clip onto. Those are on the front and on the side, they aren’t underneath because it’s uncomfortable to sit on those. Lots of times when I make stuff for folks who are wheelchair users, it’ll have a higher back because they’re always sitting so they don’t always want to have it cut off their butt. I mean, I love butt cracks, but you know clothing is mostly designed for when you’re standing. It’s also fun because this friend, Carrie, I pretty much mostly make her these tight skirts but she always talks about how having a really tight pencil skirt keeps her legs together. She also likes to look very slutty that way and she loves that. I think it’s really fun that since she’s always sitting, I can make the whole back of this skirt totally sheer and like nobody even knows. She can go around town with a totally sheer butt. I like things like that. This is like a binder and/or sports bra. Lots of my binders can also be sports bras, it just depends on your size. I made this for a show at Paris Fashion Week. My friend, Sarah Weiss, brought me and Compton out to do this whole all-holographic, all-white looks and we like helped out in the installation. The room was just all completely covered in Mylar, so it’s super reflective. This is for GiGi, like nail artist who’s an awesome fat femme. Here’s the matching leggings to that bra or binder. They’re totally see through. These look really good on her.
REDDY-BEST: Can you talk about the chainmaille you produce and why it’s important and how you produce it?
CUBACUB: I’ve been chainmailing for exactly half my life as of this week. I turn twenty-six tomorrow and I’ve been doing it since I was thirteen. My first birthday is cursed, so I mostly like my new birthday, but it’s okay because this one is exciting because it’s marking my half-life of chainmailing. I’ve been chainmailing since I was thirteen, and it’s the thing that really got me out of like my shell. My Nana saw that I was doing very quiet projects alone in the corner and I had my friend Frankie, which she’s the only one who understood me because she was also a weird queer as a child. We’re still best friends by the way. I started chainmailing and I just love the repetitive movement a lot. I’m a neuro-divergent kind of person so it just feels really good to me and very settling. It’s calming to just do the same movement over and over and over again. I learned chainmailling through a teacher, Rebecca Mojica, who used to own the company Blue Buddha Boutique, which just closed last year. I started making my head pieces right after I shaved my head in sophomore year of high school so that I could glue pop tops to it for a performance piece. I was really interested in skull caps out of different materials and I started making my head pieces and then, when I was in junior or senior year of high school, I was making my scalemaille head pieces, which I now where every day and I feel pretty naked if I go outside without it. I almost never go outside without it because I like feel too vulnerable. I just posted earlier this week about why I started wearing all this metal and all this armor and makeup that looks like a tattoo. It’s kind of as a way to defend against sexual harassment on the train and like in public. When I was fourteen, fifteen I used to get grabbed all the time by creepy cis-men and but now, once I started doing like make up that looks like a tattoo and wearing armor, and even though I am so tiny and like perceived as like a tiny Asian girl, people usually don’t really mess with me. So, that’s kind of also why I wear it. It’s my literal armor for the world. It does draw people to me because it is so beautiful and very tactile so people will come up and talk to me, which is great because I almost can never start a conversation. I don’t think that people realize it, but, I don’t think I’ve hardly ever started a conversation because I’m too scared. Once somebody approaches me, then I can talk to them, but I can’t talk to the person first.
So, this is my chainmail packer that I first made for myself. And it’s very tactile. Basically, all of the chainmaille is like a fidget toy, which is now seen.
REDDY-BEST: I imagine the weight must feel very calming.
CUBACUB: Yes. It’s super calming. That’s how I feel about my head piece, I feel like it’s a hug on my head and I feel safe. Now stemmed hoods and fidget toys are so widely known but I’ve been having these things since I was thirteen, and I’m just like [sighs]. So, I have this a shawl but that was originally going to be a blanket for myself, but then I was like, “I like to wear it.” This is my signature chainmaille, out of chainmaille, it’s kind of hard to see this but you can kind of see it and this pink one. I love details so this is my graduation jacket from college. I actually had started it right after high school and then because college is terrible, I didn’t get to work on it until I graduated. So, I have this check board tails. And I’ll bring my grandma over. This is the mannequin that was in my grandma’s sewing studio that she would make clothing on and put my clothing on it. Then it had a wig that looked like her hair, I don’t know where that wig is. So, I call this my grandma. This is actually a collaboration with my grandma, Cora. I made all the chainmaille and then I designed the dress and then she made the dress for me because I didn’t know how to at the time. She had always tried to teach me how to sew, but she’s just a very impatient Philippino woman who just screams at you. I would feel like, “Oh god okay sorry!” I’d run away and be like, “I’m terrified of grandma.” It’s really funny. I made this because I was like a circus kid. Before I learned chainmaille, I was really into like circus-aesthetic. I mean you can tell by my clothing. It all looks like a circus costume. I wanted to make something kind of like those circus ballerina type folks and I made this in during my critique is my first semester of high school and the teacher was like, “I don’t know how to say this in a good way, but uh, it looks like S&M.” I was just like, “Ahhhhhhhh!” and they were like, “but somehow not because of this little accent of pink.” I think me and my girlfriend were the only people who knew what that meant and everyone else was like, “S&M.” I used to really push against everyone always being like, “Oh, this is fetish or this is hyper-sexual,” because I didn’t really feel that way in high school. I was just like, “This is my armor. I’m not trying to be sexy. I’m just trying to be protected.” But now, of course, I’m into fetish and kink stuff so I’m like, “whatever,” but, I think it was good for a while for me to be able to be like, “No this is not what I do.”
REDDY-BEST: What has been most successful for your brand so far, or, what do you view as most successful?
CUBACUB: I’ve had about a bajillion people come out to me and say that they would never have come out without my visibility. I think that’s the thing that keeps me going the most and I always say that that’s what’s keeping me alive.
REDDY-BEST: Do they email you, tell you in person?
CUBACUB: I’ve had every combination. There are folks who I’ll meet them and then they will quickly transition and then, they’ll be like, “It’s because of you,” or they’ll be like, “I came out because of you,” and I’m like, “Whoa, I might not even have to know them very well and just interacting with them a little bit or them seeing me allowed them to come out.” I just had two people, this week alone, say that, so, I don’t know, I get a lot of people saying that they didn’t know about non-binary identities until working with me, and then they were like, “That’s who I am. I just didn’t know that was an option.” Sometimes it’s older folks. It’ll be like folks who have been identifying as queer for quite a while but, they might not have known about non-binary stuff. Folks who are my age and even all the folks who are younger than me are awesome and are so on it with the language. They are super inspiring, which is why I love going to my high school because they’re like keeping me fresh.
REDDY-BEST: Was there anything that surprised you along the way that you didn’t necessarily think about? I mean, when you design clothes it can be like a tough business, but was there anything that was most surprising?
CUBACUB: I have to think about that for a second. What is surprising? I guess I wasn’t expecting such a positive reaction after I got out of college, because in college I mostly got negative reactions towards my brand. As well as people being really confused, so I thought that I would have more of that, but I think by being out of college and by being in a queer bubble, but I was still surprised by the amount of positive reactions towards me. Then when I did my Kickstarter, I was having so many positive reactions I then wasn’t expecting people to try to attack me in a very aggressive, violent-seeming way online. I mean, it makes sense because there’s just horrible people everywhere, but yeah, I was having death threats by white supremacist folks. The most hatred that I’ve gotten is because I dress plus-size and fat folks. That is the most hatred and the most out-right, unabashed, evil comments are from folks who are fat-phobic. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought that the most hatred would be for the queer-ness or the trans-ness.
REDDY-BEST: Are those comments in emails or online or where do those comments come from?
CUBACUB: Almost none of the comments are in-person. It was mostly comments on articles that were written about me. Or the comments on my Kickstarter video on YouTube. All of a sudden, just a couple of months ago, I had a bunch of people just being like, “Send nukes now,” or like, “If this is the world, I want to destroy the whole world,” or things like that where I’m like, “Whoa, that is a really extreme reaction.” My Kickstarter video is just being like, “We’re doing this because I love people! La-la-la!” We were like, “How do you have such an angry reaction to me, I’m not even pushing anything. I’m just like happy, happy.” And I was like, “Ahh, what is happening!” Yeah, I wasn’t expecting that and then people being like, “Oh, I bet they’re all just sitting in a room, jerking each other off, talking about their abilities.” And I was like, “What are you talking about.”
REDDY-BEST: [sarcastic] That’s exactly what’s happening, yes.
CUBACUB: Or they were like, “Oh, these people complain about not getting a date, but they’re weird.” I’m like, “I didn’t say anything about that.” I want to, I’m not even talking about dating at all – what?” All the people I know who are wearing all my stuff can date, if you know what I mean.
REDDY-BEST: It can be hard to read those kinds of comments.
CUBACUB: Yeah, I usually cry a lot.
REDDY-BEST: Right, it can be tough.
CUBACUB: I freak out.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah, exactly. Do you delete the comments? I think there’s a function to delete them.
CUBACUB: I delete the YouTube ones because I was like, “This is too much. This is really scary.” The other ones I couldn’t really delete because they weren’t on my posts. It was, I think, DNA Info they cover neighborhood things in Chicago. They did an article about me and then there was just all these hyper-fit folks who were saying like, “It’s great that you make stuff for folks with disabilities but it’s really despicable that you promote fat-ness. That’s just promoting being unhealthy.” and I’m like, “I don’t agree with you.” But luckily, during that time, I did have a good number of friends who would just jump on those folks, but they’re trolls who are just being jerks, but I had a lot of folks responding to those for me. I have had some pretty bad stuff. I don’t work with people who are like the person I was supposed to work with for Queer Fashion Week last year.
REDDY-BEST: In Brooklyn?
CUBACUB: In Oakland.
REDDY-BEST: Oakland, okay.
CUBACUB: They were really not good with disability stuff, so, I ended up having to drop out last minute because they kept on lying to me about being accessible. They were trying to gaslight me and be like, “what are you talking about.” I’m like, “We’ve been talking from April to October about this, you can’t get out of it, we have like stuff in emails.”
REDDY-BEST: What kinds of things could they not accommodate?
CUBACUB: They told me that they would, of course, have ramps and stuff like that. I told them all of the accessibility needs but the weirdest thing is that, I feel like even if folks don’t really know about accessibility, they usually have one idea of a disabled person and it’s usually a person who’s a wheelchair user. They’re like, “Oh yeah a ramp will solve everything!” Even though they make an absurd ramp that isn’t safe, that’s super-steep.
REDDY-BEST: Was there anything else?
CUBACUB: There’s other things. I was trying to have them meet with my accessibility ambassador like way ahead but they kept on having troubles with their venues. Eventually at the end of their meeting, finally, with my accessibility person which was only two days before I was going, they were like, “Oh do we really need a ramp?” They had already okayed me to use all my own models so I actually had six-wheel chair users who were going to be in that show, which is the most that I’ve had in a show. There’s all these really amazing disability activists in Oakland but they were just like, “you know it really just like doesn’t go with the other designers’ aesthetics.” They hadn’t even built the stage yet, so they could have easily built a ramp, not even for more money, you just do an incline. They just were like, “Yeah, it won’t go with the other designers’ aesthetics,” but I know for a fact that they didn’t ask the other designers because I don’t know any designer that would say, “No, you can’t build the ramp. It won’t go with my aesthetic.” Nobody is going to say that. So, I had to drop out but then all these people online were attacking me, saying that I was a white supremacist and that I didn’t want to work with queer women of color since the Queer Fashion Week was run by queer women of color, and I’m like, “I’m technically, I mean I don’t identify as a woman, but if you really have to come at me for that, I’m a queer woman of color.” That’s not the reason, the reason was that they didn’t want to accommodate us, but people will just see disability as a white-only issue, but it’s so much more a POC and poor folks issue. It affects POC folks at a greater rate and we don’t have as many resources because of being POC. It’s just very disheartening working with what was supposed to be a very radical queer place and then they just didn’t want to accommodate even though they specifically told me that they wanted my line because of my diversity.
REDDY-BEST: What would be some examples of, in regards to your fashion week experience or your college experience, what would you change about the people you work with or anything like the environment? What do you think would have made your experiences better?
CUBACUB: I have a lot of ideas. Compton and I do little fashion performance workshops, so we have like a little bit of experience. I think it a lot of it is very easy things that wouldn’t even cost anything. A lot of it is language. Stop only talking about womenswear, menswear and then also being like, “Oh menswear is like this whole weird thing.” Yeah, using gender neutral stuff and you can talk about the history like, “you know so far, this is what we’ve been referring to as menswear but, now that doesn’t really matter and doesn’t really mean anything.” Talking about how what is mainstream in fashion shows is who society values. So, it’s showing that they only value white, thin, like cis-straight, abled-bodied folks and like that’s so true, that is what is valued most. If you’re telling people that they need to choose who do you value in your life would you want to exclude the folks that don’t fall under those categories? If you’re telling people that they have to put up with the way my fashion department was like, that you can only start a line one way, that you have to like work for like at least five years like as an intern in New York for a fancy fashion house and then, maybe, you can start. But, there are designers like me and like my friend Gnat, who makes Gnat Glitter Kink harnesses, they just like started their Etsy, and that’s what I did too. We’re both pretty successful with our lines and you don’t have to do it in this way. We have the internet now. There’s so much accessibility, you can start your line now, you don’t have to wait and you don’t have to have all this experience. And I feel like most of those experiences only tarnish you. I worked for this line that I won’t name, but I hate them. They were two cis-gay men who were white and they just were, I didn’t even really realize this because I didn’t have the language for it in early high school because I was working for them when I was seventeen, but they were so misogynistic. They had all these ideas of what women should wear. They only used like fifteen-year-olds who looked like twenty something year-old models who were skinnier than me. I ended up doing the in house modeling a lot because I was close enough in size but then I was ten feet shorter than the actual folks, so it was kind of funny at the show when everyone’s things were too short. I was like, “Ha, that’s what you get.” They were like using models that they don’t care about. I was working on my senior project at the time and I was like, “I’m going to use my friends as models.” I’ve always done that. Even though, at that time, most of the people who modeled for me happened to be white and thin but it was because I would ask everybody around me if they would want to model and only those folks would be like, “Oh I can model.” Because it gets into your head, you’re like, “Well, I’m not a model because I’m not a model shape.” Now I know. Now I’m better at being like, “No, you can model too,” and now people get it and they see my work. The designers were just like, “You have to hire professional models. It’s just going to look so much more professional.” You just really have to just go with the standard and models should just be hangers, you shouldn’t see their personality, you shouldn’t see them, it’s all about the clothing and it’s not about them at all. They talk to the models terribly, and they almost like pinned my neck multiple times because they’d forget that I was a human and they’d think I was a mannequin, so they’d be like, “Oh my God! I almost stabbed you in the neck,” and I’m like, “You have such screwed up ideas about AFAB folks, I hate it. So yeah, I’ve always pushed against that. Later that year I was asked to be part of OUR Couture, which is like the peak of fashion week here in Chicago. They said I could use my own models and then they just lied to me. When I got there and they were like, “No, you have to use these models,” and so I said, “No, I’m just not going to do this show,” and this woman screamed at me for forever on the phone, saying how ungrateful I was, and how they were doing me a favor. But I’m like, “You guys contacted me. I didn’t ask to be part of this, you contacted me. I told you that I would only use my own models because that’s how I work and you didn’t respect that, so I’m not going to do this.” People always just call me a child, they call me ungrateful, they say that they’re doing me a favor when they ask me. Luckily, I have hardly had any of that, as of being rebirthed, but high school is so bad. I just hate how people are so stuck in like, “this is the only thing that you can do as a fashion designer.” I would also just get rid of mannequins, no mannequins! You guys have to drape on each other. Pair up, drape on each other, don’t use a mannequin. I have mannequins, but I basically never use them. Sometimes I dress them up to show people.
REDDY-BEST: So, you would say it’s like a lot about language? If people just understood the nuances of language or try?
CUBACUB: People just get too stuck in their ways. If you just release, it’s like, “oh this is so easy, I don’t have to be stuck like this and it’s so much easier actually, because then I’m not treating other people like shit.”
REDDY-BEST: What are or were some of the struggles that go along with having with your brand?
CUBACUB: I guess, right now, I’ve been a little bit struggling with getting shows that are paid. I was doing really well last year and then I like [sighs]. The big thing is taxes. I’ve been doing my taxes for a long time, but I had never made any sort of amount of money until last year and then I just was like destroyed during taxes. So, I would recommend if somebody is an emerging fashion designer start out your bank account with having two bank accounts. One account is just for your taxes, and you just put a big chunk there and you let it sit and you don’t touch it. I’ve been kind of messed up this year because of that. I was like. “Oh shoot, I don’t know how to do this.” It’s hard because I learned how to do business by watching how both of my parents ran their own artistic businesses, but they also had like lots of faults with theirs. So, I try to not do their faults and then, I try to do the other things that are good. But it’s really hard. I don’t really know like actual business people. I’ve only ever grown up with artists, but I actually don’t really know too many adults who are very successful artists. I know of lots of artists that were successful in the nineties when there was unlimited money for some reason. I would say it’s really hard because I don’t really have too many folks to like look up, and to model my business after, but I just try to do everything where I’m as respectful as possible to everybody who works for me. I try to make my work environment really comfortable. I pay people more than I’ve ever been paid for things, like thirteen to fifteen dollars an hour, sometimes more if it’s a more specialized person but, more than minimum wage. We mostly watch T.V. on that projector screen that is right over there, and work and chat and it’s a really free space. Most of us are polyamorous, and very friendly to folks who have any kind of lifestyle or sex workers or whatever, we’re just very open. I like not having this old business model because then, I can do mine totally differently and be like, “Oh, business doesn’t have to feel like you’re dying all the time.” I mean, I feel very overwhelmed because I’m the one in charge, but like I try to make it very comfortable for people and people can always eat whenever. I have a stomach disorder so sometimes it’s worse and sometimes it’s not, but I just have to do what I can for my body. I don’t really have rules.
REDDY-BEST: I want to work here. I’m like, can I come? I did my undergrad in fashion too.
CUBACUB: Yeah, and folks who haven’t even done fashion can work here. Like Jake, who didn’t do any sort of fashion anything and just barely made clothing and didn’t even really know how to properly hand sew. I’ve just found this out recently. I had them hand sewing and they tied a knot right under the needle and pulled the knot through on every stitch. I was like, “What are you doing?” Then I taught them and they were lightning fast, it was like, “Wow, cool.” I work with folks who haven’t worked in fashion and I’m very willing to just do whatever works for peoples’ bodies. I also check in with them. I’m not going to be like, “Do this repetitive task forever,” if that’s the thing you don’t like to do. I’ll find their strengths, so Jake really is good at cutting and likes cutting fabric, so I’ll just have them do everything that involves cutting. I never have Compton cut fabric anymore because they hate it. I mostly have Compton sew, or pattern make, and color block because that’s what they prefer. I try to play to peoples’ strengths and not make people do something that they, even if they can do, that they don’t like to do. I’ll try to not do that.
REDDY-BEST: How did you initially fund your brand? I know you had a Kickstarter, can you talk maybe a little about that?
CUBACUB: The Kickstarter was later. I initially funded my brand because I didn’t have school debt because I had a full ride from my work in high school, and so did Compton. I just basically used my life savings from all the jobs ever had. I did operas when I was a child. So, I just used that and I was like, “I’m going to give myself a year and if I don’t figure out how to make my work sustainable then I will find a part time job, but if I can just throw all of this into it and see if it can stick, then I’ll do it.” I had the privilege to do that since I didn’t have school debt, but I also knew from a very early age that I would only be able to go to college if I got a full ride so I worked really hard. I knew exactly what I wanted to do from very early on. I was very conscious of the idea that, “Both my parents are both artists so I have to do this on my own.” That’s how I initially funded it and then I think, within nine months, I started getting it to being sustainable and then, last year I did the Kickstarter, which was amazing and helpful. I got to buy three new giant machines, which is amazing and I got to have more steady employees, which is also very helpful. I’m having a little bit of trouble right now, I’m like, “Yikes,” so we’ll see. I need to take a tiny break, or I think I might start making my business seasonal. I might take off November and December. I know most other folks are open for the holiday season, but I mostly get all of my business during bathing suit season. I think that it might be good for me to take breaks, because I can work really, really hard, basically non-stop but then, at some point in the year I just start to go nuts. Usually around my birthday I feel terrible or on my first birth birthday. So, I need to have a chill time.
REDDY-BEST: How do you incorporate or consider sustainability or an ethical business model into your brand?
CUBACUB: As I was saying before, I try to really make sure that the people I work with are as comfortable as possible and not feeling exploited or anything. That’s very important to me. I’m very against sweatshops and things like that. Even though, sometimes, I feel like a one-person sweatshop just be like, “I’m never going to sleep again, I’m just working.” I think about that a lot. I have been on a couple of panel talks for sustainable fashion even though I make clothing out of petroleum products, which is oil, which is the evil-est thing in the world. I think about it a lot, but it’s also like the material that works best with my own body. I’m allergic to wools and, I want to source some cotton things but then I just haven’t figured it out correctly, yet. I guess people include me in those green fashion talks from an angle of getting something hyper-custom made for yourself and having it for a long time and not being like, “Oh, I need an entire million-piece wardrobe.” Unless you need to, because no other clothing is accessible to you, just having a couple of key pieces and not having excessive amounts of clothes is ideal. I mean, I know myself, I have excessive amounts of clothes, but I also make clothes, so I feel like I feel like it makes sense. I don’t think that people should have like piles and piles and piles of clothes in general. I think people should be more choosey or just buy stuff from the thrift store.
REDDY-BEST: Yeah, it makes sense, even if you use synthetics you’re not making like massive amounts and then they’re not going to landfill, you know what I mean?
CUBACUB: Yeah, and that’s another thing. People are always like, “Oh you must get such great wholesale fabrics and I’m like, do you understand the size of my line compared to the size of any other fashion line in the world. I am nothing compared to them. I am considered a home sewer, so I don’t get to pay wholesale prices for my fabrics at all. My fabrics are expensive too. I recently made my friend, Sorell, a whole new wardrobe, but it’s because almost all other clothing has been driving their bodies totally insane. I made all the clothing with the seams on the outside. It’s modest-wear because they’re Muslim. I made them easy-to-tie hijabs so that if they are having a bad pain day, they don’t have to do too much of this movement with their arms up. I made high-waisted stuff with very thick bands so that it’s very soft on the stomach. I don’t really put elastic in any of the waistbands, unless someone has asked for me to do it specifically, because I don’t feel like usually that you really need a lot of tightness there, but that’s also because I have that stomach stuff. I’m like, “Don’t touch me.” So Sorell is the only one for whom I’ve made a whole wardrobe, but they literally couldn’t get anything anywhere else and they had just come out as non-binary. So, in terms of finding something that really respects every part of their identity, I was the only one who could do it.
REDDY-BEST: Do you do any types of community outreach? I know you had volunteered in the schools, but anything else that might be more specifically related to Rebirth Garments?
CUBACUB: I volunteer at Northside College Prep. I’ve also done a couple of teaching things with Reimagine Twenty-Four, which was to fund a twenty-four-hour art-making day at the Art Institute in the Muse. They mostly pick students who are more underprivileged. I gave a talk at Lurie Children’s Hospital with their trans-teens and young trans-people. Some of the people were younger than teens. I would give a talk there. I helped a team in Cincinnati with my friend Lindsey, who’s over there in that photo. They run all these really cool things in Cincinnati, but they do a sewing program at one of the schools and so I taught one of their non-binary students how to make their own binder. I brought the fabric and then we did it all in one day. I try to do as much as I can and anytime anyone asks me for donations, I pretty much always do it even though I should stop. I donate stuff for auctions for the Howard Brown Health Center, which is a queer health center here in Chicago or to Project Fierce, which is an amazing program for queer homeless youth. At Project Fierce, they’re trying to make a good, safe, affirming space that’s better than anything else that is available right now. One of my distant dreams is to create a foster home for QueerCrip teens that’s extremely, extremely affirming and safe feeling.
REDDY-BEST: How would you describe the types of customers that shop your brand?
CUBACUB: I get everyone. I guess, on my Etsy, I do get a lot of AFAB folks with very large cup sizes. That’s because I’m the only person who they can find to make custom things, so I would say folks with large cup sizes are probably my biggest customer demographic.
REDDY-BEST: And then, how do your customers find out about your brand and then how do they purchase?
CUBACUB: It’s mostly through word-of-mouth and seeing me online. I just decided a year ago that I want to be Instagram-famous so that I can get out there. I’m still working on it. I hate computers and I’m bad at them, so we’ll see. But, you know, everywhere I go, even if it’s not even in Chicago, I’ll have people being like, “Are you Rebirth?” And I’ll be like, “Yes!” All my friends in Chicago joke that like that whenever we go, literally – anywhere, we could just be walking around by the train or something, and an old lady walking their dog will be like, “Oh my God! I know your work! You do great work!” and tell the CTA train operator. I’ll be like, “How do you know me?” I can’t go anywhere without everyone being like, “Sky, Sky, Sky.”
REDDY-BEST: Do you do the majority of the interaction with customers?
CUBACUB: Mostly me, yeah. I do most of everything. I’m trying really hard to learn how to delegate things more. I’m becoming more successful at it, but it is really hard for me to let go because I’m so particular with language and I have some folks but just knowing every single nuance of every kind of identity that I focus on, I only trust myself fully.
REDDY-BEST: What type of shopping experience do you want your customers to have?
CUBACUB: I want people to be feeling super affirmed and that there’s something for them. Sometimes I’ll get people who just like glance at my Etsy and then they’ll be like, “Why you don’t have this?” but, I have all these messages all over the page, that say, “If you don’t see something here, that doesn’t mean I don’t make it. Just message me and we can have a conversation.” Sometimes people will come in kind of an attack mode and they’re, folks who are queer trans, who are just like, “You don’t do this, so you aren’t trans-friendly.” I’m like, “You don’t even know all the things I make. I can’t put up everything on my Etsy because I’m only one person and I’m bad at computers.” It’s tough on me, you don’t have to come at me aggressively. You know that’s just what we’ve been trained to do in the world. You’re just expecting to not be affirmed. Sometimes people will come at me in a funny way, but then they’ll realize really quickly that I’m chill. Oh wait, that question from the beginning about things that aren’t attainable to me yet or something… I want to make underwire bras, but I do not know how to do that. I keep trying but I really just have to take a class in this because I don’t feel comfortable enough. So, I’ve been yelled at for that a bunch of times, but I think if I made an underwire bra it would be about two hundred dollars, so, I don’t know how to make that accessible. It’s too much work.
REDDY-BEST: How important is social media to your brand?
CUBACUB: It’s pretty important. I had two or three weeks where I couldn’t post on Instagram because I had some Nazi’s who were flagging every single thing I put up. It was l pictures of me the most clothed that I’ve ever been, and things like that. It started with a selfie of me and my friend Sorrell. It was when the Charlottesville stuff was happening. People were being so Islamophobic and terrible and racist. So, for a while I couldn’t post anything and there was huge dip in sales and I was like, “Oh my God, I didn’t know how important Instagram was to me, but now I see that that’s so important.”
REDDY-BEST: How often do you post on Instagram?
CUBACUB: I try to post every day.
REDDY-BEST: Do you have any specific people that you look to for design inspiration or view as style icons – other artists or celebrities or anyone like that?
CUBACUB: I don’t really look at fashion designers as much, but I do love Leigh Bowery. I have two tattoos of Leigh Bowery. I have my rebirthing Leigh Bowery tattoo where they’re wearing their art partner Nicola in this birthing sling, which was the under outfit for their birth performance. So, I just love that. I have one of their glasses-face people. I think this whole leg will be covered with different looks, it’s so hard to pick one look. I love Leigh because they’re queer and definitely genderqueer even though they use he/him pronouns. They passed away because of HIV related complications but they were also like very big person, so I just I love him because they have all this stuff going on. I also love Buckminster Fuller. He’s always been really inspirational for me and the idea that this is our spaceship, Earth. He has all kinds of writings about utopian ideals that I really love. I also just like love the shapes and his architecture. The last person I’m super-inspired by is Andrea Zittel, who makes these six-month-uniform outfits. She’s like my favorite. I’ve known about her because my one of my teachers in high school was obsessed about her. I’m super into her because she’s into sustainability. I’m really into Russian constructivist dress, or these ideas of utopian dress that can be unisex and very practical, but they also look great, they’re very geometric and colorful. Those are the people I’m interested in. I’m not really interested in designer-y designers. If I had to pick someone, I’d probably say Hussein Chalayan or Yohji Yamamoto or Condagar Sutin. And Issey Miyake, probably. Issey Miyake is my favorite.
REDDY-BEST: Is there anything else, besides what we’ve talked about, about you as a person, the history of who you are, and like how Rebirth came to be and is being seen today, is there anything else that we should know that would be important?
CUBACUB: I guess I could just talk about my manifesto. When I was working on my garments that same year, I made a manifesto that’s called Radical Visibility of QueerCrip Dressed Reform Movement Manifesto. I wrote it for one of my favorite teachers at SAIC, Amy Crawford, and it’s the basis of all my philosophy. Now that it’s three years old, parts of it are a little outdated, but, generally, it says my ideas. I am trying to make this this zine that’s like uh has like bits of the manifesto, but also other folks writings.
REDDY-BEST: Where can we find the manifesto or what format is it in? Can you maybe describe it a little bit more?
CUBACUB: Yeah, totally. have the manifesto on my website on RebirthGarments.com and it’s under the tab that says Radical Visibility Zine. It’s not a whole ‘zine yet, I just have the manifesto up. Soon it’ll be in printed zine form, but then that’ll also be digitized for accessibility. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought. I was like, “Oh I’ll just slap together a zine. Which I did, but then it’s like, “Oh, where do I get this printed? I can’t figure it out, I’m so bad at so bad at computers.” I’ve said it a thousand times already in this interview but I’m really bad at computers. Especially for someone my age. At the beginning of the manifesto, I try to reveal all of my identities so that people understand where I’m coming from, because my disabilities are invisible. If they don’t believe that I am disabled, then they’re just like, “What are you doing?” I’ll have folks who aren’t disabled, being like, “Why would you ever think about disability ever?” and I’m like, “Because I am disabled. Because there’s a lot of folks around me who are disabled too.” I grew up with tons of family members who are disabled, so it just seems normal to me. I don’t think it’s weird. I’ll also have more physically, or visibly disabled, folks be like, “Uh, this is person making this stuff?” and I’ll be like, “No I am disabled. Don’t you know about invisible disabilities?” Most of the really active disability activists right have invisible disabilities. I’m half Philippino, half white. I have anxiety and panic disorders. I also have an undiagnosed stomach disorder that is terrible but is manageable more recently due to acupuncture and diet switches. I’ll say like a visual description of myself for folks who are visually impaired: Today I’m wearing my pink head piece that’s made out of metal scales that have a very nice tactile feel to them and they make sounds against my earrings. I have many piercings, including some pretty sharp, dangerous-looking black gauges. I’m wearing a backwards racerback singlet that’s all in pink spandexes, stretch mesh and holographic pink. Underneath, I have a tiny short body suit with triangles, black and white triangles and a grid pattern. I’m wearing a metal-mail necklace out of chainmaille that’s in pink and lavender. I’m short stature, petite, brown, tattooed person, with makeup that looks like a face tattoo.
I can describe the setting in the studio too: To the right of me, I have a rack of various Rebirth garments clothing, it’s mostly spandex in a variety of colors. I have one of each kind of type of clothing item that I like to offer. Behind me is a sign that says Rebirth that’s hand screen printed like fake fur print and then there’s fake, actual fake fur on top, in the words Rebirth, that has some screen-printed dots in white that make it nice and gross-looking. I have some geometric paintings behind me that were done by my father in the seventies, they mostly include the golden ratio. I have my rebirthing symbol, that is also tattooed on me, that looks like a crystal gem, but it’s actually Albrecht Durer’s solid from the Renaissance etching “Melancholia,” then turned into a fourth-dimensional object and then rainbow-fied. We’re sitting in a pretty large dance studio with baby blue floors and a wall of mirrors but it’s not technically a dance studio, it just looks like a dance studio.