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Sky Cubacub is a fashion designer who sees models as more than hangers for the clothes.

The garments are meant to highlight the wearer's personality and vulnerabilities. Local, untrained models put on Cubacub's Rebirth Garments clothing line Thursday night as part of the University of Utah's Pride Week. Cubacub, who prefers "they/them" pronouns, is much like the people they are designing for.

They identify as "queer crip," which is a person who doesn't identify as heterosexual and has some kind of disability, and non-binary, which means a person who does not identify as male or female. Their designs are geared toward people left out of mainstream fashion — queer people, people of color, people of all sizes and people with disabilities.

What makes Cubacub different from other designers is that "my models are the most important part to me and not the clothing." Cubacub typically takes about 30 measurements from each model and has conversations with them about what would make clothing more accessible.

"I would really like to be able to flip the fashion world on its head and make it look at itself, so it could see how powerful it can be and how damaging it is right now," Cubacub said.

The Chicago native grew up around people with disabilities, who struggled with what to wear, and "they all kind of hacked their clothing to make it work for them."

One of the models, Jae M., sported brace covers designed by Cubacub in addition to other clothing while dancing around in an electric wheelchair during the show and described the experience as "affirming."

"It was really incredible for me as a disabled, non-binary person to have something that fit me instead of me just trying to fit into these clothes that just catch on my wheelchair or on my braces.," M. said.

Cubacub also noticed a general lack of clothing options for non-binary and gender fluid people. All their designs are intended to be unisex and combat the idea that an item of clothing should be categorized as exclusive for one gender.

Cubacub generally steers clear of the word "androgynous" because it has a connotation of women in men's clothing. Their clothes show more skin than a lot of mainstream attire.

Another one of Thursday's models, Chris Doman — who is also non-binary and prefers they/them pronouns — began following Cubacub on social media about a month ago.

Doman relates to Cubacub's experience, especially with feeling forced to dress in a masculine way after abandoning the "female" label.

It's "inspiring," Doman said "to wear what I feel like and still be my non-binary self."

Cubacub started making chain mail at age 13 — drawn to its repetitive nature and texture. Then they got into bound objects and started embroidering, which was their segue into making clothing.

Recently, Cubacub told the show's audience, people described their designs as "hideous," which is painful because the clothes are "all super tied into my politics and beliefs."

"So then when they say that it's hideous," Cubacub said, "I think, 'Oh gosh, they must have terrible politics.' This is all about medical visibility. This is all about showing off bodies that are not typically shown off."

Cubacub is comfortable with the fact that not everyone will wear their designs, "but there are other people who definitely need the fashion, and it's not what's available most places."

When invited to Pride Week at the U., Cubacub said there was a positive response, though they had difficulty finding models.

"I think maybe people in Utah are a little shy?" Cubacub said. The show was planned to feature "a bunch of bright colors on some fabulous queers dancing around."

The show's 17 models represented different sizes, ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations and abilities.

One of the models danced while signing American Sign Language. Later, Cubacub verbally described each brightly colored, bold-patterned, psychedelic outfit for the benefit of the visually impaired.

Cubacub thinks traditional catwalk, expressionless faces are "boring" and incorporates improvisational dance into each show. Critics have said their shows will never look professional, but Cubacub isn't concerned with that.

"I like designing things that super-highlight our disabilities or our vulnerabilities," Cubacub said.

Cubacub's entire income comes from the clothing line, sold through their website and Etsy shop. They've only recently begun holding shows outside Chicago, but the popularity of the designs is growing and Cubacub feels the pressure.

But they know having a fashion designer whose product doesn't fit the mainstream notion of beauty is "extremely important," and Cubacub is happy filling that role., jdobner@sltrib

Twitter: @mnoblenews, @JenniferDobner