As we learn more about adaptive clothing and fashion, we asked Sky Cubacub, a Chicago artist and designer as well as a Fall 2019 Small Business Grant recipient, to share more about their work and their community.
Sky’s company, Rebirth Garments, “a line of wearables for trans, queer and disabled people of all sizes and ages,” focuses on clothing being a place of joy and acceptance and bright hues, especially for people who may need alterations or modifications made to their clothes.
By showing what great things can happen when the focus is on celebrating how all bodies are good bodies, Sky’s work highlights not only how clothes can be a source of joy for all, but also how many people are so often kept out of the fashion conversation.
In this Q&A, Sky explains why adaptive fashion is important, who it serves and some related terms to keep in mind. We also spoke with some fellow artists that Sky recommended who are also doing this work, which you can read about in this piece’s companion post “5 Adaptive Fashion Creatives You Should Know About!”
Spoonflower: Hi Sky! Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your work.
Sky: “I’m Sky Cubacub, I use they/them/theirs and xe/xem/xyr pronouns! I am a nonbinary xenogender, neurodivergent and disabled Filipinx queer from Chicago, Illinois. I created Rebirth Garments in 2014, a line of wearables for trans, queer and disabled people of all sizes and ages. In 2015, I wrote “Radical Visibility: A Queercrip Dress Reform Movement Manifesto,” which talks about the philosophy and ideology behind my work and has turned into Radical Visibility Zine, a full color cut-and-paste style zine that celebrates disabled queer life, with an emphasis on joy.
Feeling confident in one’s outward appearance can revolutionize one’s emotional and political reality, thus, Rebirth Garments and the Radical Visibility Zine work in tandem as a way to nurture a community of people who have often been excluded from mainstream fashion and provide a platform for people to confidently express pride in the intersections of their identities.
In particular, our trans and disabled communities have very particular clothing needs that are not adequately served by mainstream clothing designers. Instead of being centered on cisgender, heterosexual, white, thin people, Rebirth Garments is centered on Queer and Disabled people.
Rebirth Garments challenges mainstream beauty standards that are sizeist, ableist and conform to the gender binary. Instead, we maintain the notion of Radical Visibility, a movement based on claiming our bodies and, through the use of bright colors, exuberant fabrics and innovative designs, highlighting the parts of us that society typically shuns. Radical Visibility is a call to refuse to assimilate to create a Queer and Disabled dress reform movement.
I first dreamed of designing this collection when I was in high school and couldn’t find a place where I could buy a chest binder as a person who was under 18, and who didn’t have access to a credit card to buy one online. I also was unsatisfied with the boring options available that were largely white, black or beige, so I wanted to create something that was celebratory of all my identities and made me feel cute and sexy at the same time.
My whole life I have dealt with sensory sensitivities, with clothing seams and tags always really bothering me. When I was 21 years old, my stomach mysteriously stopped working properly and I couldn’t wear what I now call “hard pants” (jeans or non-stretch pants) due to pain, so I finally decided this was the time to start my own clothing line.
In the last year, I started a CBD business for chronically ill babes called Radically Chill, I was asked to be the Access Brat and the editor of a section on ethics and inclusion called “Cancel & Gretel” at literary fashion magazine “Just Femme and Dandy” and I have been creating a fashion curriculum for the Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia teen programing called “Radical Fit!” Radical Fit is a fashion-based series that embraces, craft, making and DIY while providing a safe space for teens to discuss gender equity and to dream and create through personal expressions of style. Check out the YouTube playlist of workshops at bit.ly/RadicalFitPlaylist. We are about to start our second year of workshops!”
Spoonflower: What is adaptive fashion and why is it important?
Sky: “Adaptive fashion is targeted towards disabled folx. It is what we need to be making! When we make clothing with every kind of person that exists in mind, it opens up so many creative possibilities. The fashion industry is uncreative and has been focusing on making things for the same type of body and type of person that purposely excludes anyone who doesn’t fit into that mold for the whole time it has existed.
Because of this there is an oversaturation of clothing for this one type of person, and nothing for so many others. People always say that there is nothing that hasn’t been done before, but this is fully untrue because Fat folx, Disabled folx and Trans folx have so few options. There are currently lots of really interesting conversations in the fat activism community — lots of SuperFat and InfiniFat folx don’t even know what their personal style is because of growing up with so few options, and are trying to figure out what it would be if there wasn’t this lack in choice.
Spoonflower: Who does adaptive fashion serve?
Sky: “Adaptive fashion can be worn by everyone! Eyeglasses are the most normalized adaptive fashion tech that are widely available. With the invention of stretch fabrics many clothes these days are much more accessible for people to put on, since they don’t require fasteners. There are a lot of garments and accessories that are necessary for specific disabilities, for example things to hold ostomies in place, snaps up and down the sides of a garment for easy IV access, and many more that would benefit so many people but there are so few options, and clients who need these have to seek out these items to be custom made for the most part.
Things that are more widely available usually don’t think about aesthetics and look like medical gear rather than a cute accessory or clothing item. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive!
There are so many things that need to be made in cute/creative versions of themselves, and yet the fashion industry just keeps pumping out unnecessary things for skinny, white, able body/minded, straight, cis people, so much to the point of destroying the environment and exploiting garment workers.
For Rebirth Garments specifically, the majority of my customers are disabled people (including apparent/non-apparent disabilities), people with sensory sensitivities, transgender/non-binary people and fat/plus-sized people. Most clients have a functional need, such as people who have very large cup sizes and cannot find binders or bras that are comfortable and affordable.
Similarly, many transmasculine clients need a binder (compression garment that reduces the appearance of breasts) but have physical disabilities that prevent them from being able to wear a non-custom binder. I also make a lot of bras for trans women and transfeminine folx who have larger band sizes and small cup sizes. Garments can be made with the seams on the outside for people with sensory sensitivities, or pockets to hold gender affirming prosthetics or insulin pumps.
I specialize in making a “less tight bind” option for people with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Everything is made from stretch making it easy to slip on, accommodate weight fluctuation, and facilitate full-range movement. In addition to meeting a specific functional need, Rebirth Garments are made to fulfill the custom aesthetic needs of my clients. In the face of what society tells them to hide, my clients are unapologetic individuals who want to celebrate and highlight their bodies. Instead of hiding the aspects of their identity that make them unique, Rebirth clients are Radically Visible.”
For anyone who might like to read more, there is a great article called “Unraveling the Long Line of Disability Fashion” by Liz Jackson and Jaipreet Virdi that talks about this too.
Spoonflower: “Are there certain terms commonly used in adaptive fashion that we should keep in mind when writing about it?”
Sky: “I made a document about this a long time ago called “Access/Gender Vocabulary- Don’ts and Dos!” I made the document after I was having a lot of trouble with interviewers using terrible language when describing me and my community, but it’s not a comprehensive list.
For example, a good amount of the people I suggested (Note: You can see some of the people Sky suggested in the post “5 Adaptive Fashion Creatives You Should Know About”) do identify as crip, which is a more politicized way of saying disabled; there is a lot of conflicting discussion on whether it is ok for people with non-apparent disabilities to use it. In Crip Theory from the 1990’s up until 2010’s it was more all-inclusive for anyone with disabilities, but now perhaps it is more for physically disabled people. There is no consensus currently on it.
Leroy Moore uses Krip with a K as a Black man with disabilities in order to differentiate himself from the gang, “the Crips,” which makes it more usable for Black and Latinx folx who may be mistaken for being in the gang. Crip theory is now being seen as taken over too much/co-opted by academia, which in itself is inherently inaccessible, but I would refer people [to use whatever language others use to refer to themselves]!”
Spoonflower: “Anything else you’d like to add?”
Sky: “There are examples of things that have adaptive tech but are inaccessible to disabled people, such as the Nike “FlyEase” hands-free shoes that are adaptive, but they were marketed more for people who are “on-the-go” who don’t have time to tie their shoes, and almost no disabled people who could really use them could buy them because sneakerheads bought them up so fast and were reselling them for $500.
Other mainstream companies who have made adaptive lines did not have disabled people as part of the process when designing, so when it came time for the photoshoot, things had to be faked to look like they worked. They also did not actively alert their employees to the line, so when asked in stores by disabled people about it, their employees had no clue what they were talking about.
It just brings to question what their focus is, is it checking off a box, is it trendy, is it just trying to make able bodied lives easier, or is it actually trying to make something needed. I think these mainstream brands should continue to make adaptive lines, but need to hire disabled people for the entire process — research, designing, making, modeling, photographing, media.“
Betsy is a writer and stitcher who joined the Brand Marketing team in July 2021. In her spare time, she talks to people about their choice to make things by hand and related lessons learned for her project Dear Textiles. She also aims to befriend all the dogs she meets and is forever looking for the perfect dress pattern with pockets.