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Queer? Disabled? Plus-Sized? Designer Sky Cubacub Has Your Back

By Patty Wetli | September 16, 2016 5:56am
 Rebirth Garments
Rebirth Garments
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NORTH CENTER — It's a not-so-secret secret that the fashion industry's biggest names don't create clothing with real people in mind.

Comedian Leslie Jones poked this bear when she tweeted an S.O.S. for a designer willing to dress her 6-foot curvy frame for the "Ghostbusters" premiere, the type of high-profile event that would normally find an actress awash in suitors from Armani to Zuhair Murad.

Christian Siriano came to Jones' rescue in spectacular fashion, pardon the pun. But who's looking out for the average Jane or Joe?

Sky Cubacub.

From a studio on the ground floor of the North Center home where she was born and raised, Cubacub, 24, has launched Rebirth Garments, billed as a clothing line "for people on the full spectrum of gender, size and ability." 

Think skirts for men, body-hugging skin-baring tops for pluz-sized women, and prosthetic covers for amputees that emphasize rather than attempt to disguise the missing limb.

The seed for Rebirth was planted during Cubacub's first day of orientation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The budding designer was newly graduated from Northside College Prep, and had received a full ride to the prestigious art school, attending on a scholarship reserved for CPS students.

"I went to SAIC thinking I would be able to make clothing for whoever I wanted," said Cubacub (who identifies as "non-binary" and prefers to be referred to with the pronouns "they/their" or by name).

Asked to practice a series of "croquis" — the illustrated figures onto which designers sketch concepts for garments and accessories — Cubacub immediately met with resistance from instructors.

"I've always used tracings of my body and my friends' bodies," the designer said. "They were like, 'Ugh, no. This person looks like an ugly footballer.'"

Fashion illustrations, called "croquis," demonstrate that clothing isn't designed with real people in mind. [Instagram]

Cubacub's own petite frame was deemed too large for the illustrations, which typically feature exaggeratedly elongated body parts that make Barbie look downright pudgy in comparison.

In fact, a tutorial on the art of drawing a croquis specifically states: "Note that when you're designing clothes, a proportional model isn't required, because the clothing is what is being showcased."

"It's really, really ridiculous. They're trying to have clothing rewrite the body — there's no body positivity," Cubacub said.

"It was the biggest disappointment ... I don't make something and think, 'Let's find the hottest skinny person.'"

With Rebirth, Cubacub has taken conventional fashion wisdom and turned it on its head, tackling challenges other designers avoid or ignore.

Rebirth Garments are purposely designed in bright colors, because color itself is often devalued, according to Sky Cubacub's manifesto "Radical Visibility." [Rebirth Garments]

Cubacub's brightly colored and patterned spandex garments — custom-fit to an individual's body — take into account a host of issues mainstream clothing rarely addresses.

"I can make anything with the seams on the outside for people with sensory issues. I make tight pencil skirts for my friend in a wheelchair, so her legs don't fall apart," said Cubacub.

Extra attention is given to closures — snaps, buttons, etc. — to make it easier for people with mobility issues to slip into and out of their clothes. 

Also in the works, garments that can hold an insulin pump for people with diabetes.

Though Rebirth includes both outerwear and underwear, it's the latter that's proven most popular with customers.

Cubacub estimates that 90 percent of the line's Etsy sales are for "binders," which flatten breasts. Rebirth also offers boxer briefs with compression lining "to tuck your junk."

A Kickstarter campaign is aimed, in part, at raising funds so Cubacub can provide free or reduced-price garments for people in need.

In "Radical Visibility," the manifesto that outlines Cubacub's design philosophy, the designer, steeped in the research of "queer/crip" theorists, writes:

"Clothing, especially the foundation garment, is the closest thing to your skin, it is your second skin; it changes the way you hold yourself. I consider it armor because it has the power to give you the confidence and strength to feel comfortable in your first skin."

The armor analogy is one that runs throughout Cubacub's work.

The designer's first passion is chainmaille, out of which Cubacub creates a separate line of sculptural garments and accessories such as head covers.

"It makes you feel secure, kind of like a hug and that you're protected," Cubacub said of chainmaille. "It's helped a lot with creepy guys. People don't mess around with you."

Sculptural chainmaille designs earned Sky Cubacub a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. At right are two of the pieces the designer created while attending high school at Northside College Prep. [Rebirth Garments]

Clad in literal and figurative armor, Cubacub is physically and mentally prepared to battle fashion's hierarchy on behalf of marginalized communities.

Fellow warriors include heavy hitters like Siriano and "Project Runway" host Tim Gunn, who recently penned an Op-Ed in the Washington Post that called designers' antipathy toward plus-sized women a "disgrace."

"I hope that more fashion designers start considering people with disabilities, plus-sized, queer as valid people," Cubacub said. "I want everyone to be valued — not just valued but extremely celebrated."

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