Imara: Hey fam, it’s me, Imara. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast. A show where we tell trans stories to save trans lives. Well we’re back after our August break, hopefully you had an enjoyable August too, but now it’s back into the swing of things, and one of the things that marks every September is New York Fashion Week. It’s the start of New York Fashion Week. Actually now, a time when the most elite members of the fashion world flock to the runways.
Now trans people have been working in the fashion industry for decades, including April Ashley, the first known trans top model who was outed in 1961 and Tracy Norman, the first black trans woman top model, and trans and gender non-conforming people through Ballroom for example, have of course shaped the very idea of what fashion is and means, but despite these contributions and the many trans people who will grace the runways this week, key questions remain about how inclusive and open fashion is to our community in all of its aspects.
New York Fashion Week seemed as good a time as any, to have this conversation with 2 people who are helping to challenge the entire industry. First, I’ll chat with the creator of Rebirth Garments, Sky Cubacub about how they center accessibility in their designs.
Sky: I started making chest binders and packing boxer briefs for myself. Then was like, well if there’s other folks who are non-binary or trans and also have disabilities, then I should address that and make this like intersectional clothing line.
Imara: Then I’m joined by model and activist Ady Del Valle, who shares her experience in making space for intersectional inclusivity in the fashion world.
Ady: I wanna be able to represent truly who I am without trying to fit any mold that the industry already has in place, ’cause we already have enough of it.
Imara: Before we get to these exciting and necessary conversations, let’s start out as always with some trans joy.
Imara: High fashion is all about using the body as a canvas, but not all bodies have been welcome in this art form. Vulpinic Vestments is a Chicago-based brand that is breaking the traditional molds of experimental fashion. By fusing silicone and fabric Vulpinic Vestments creates wearable art with bright colors and wild silhouettes. You can find their signature silicon drip style in harness form as a bodysuit or a full length gown.
Vulpinic founder Vieve draws on their training in molding casting and special effects makeup to create stunning custom looks which have become popular with drag performers. Here’s Vieve to tell us more about their unique creative process.
Vieve: A lot of my pieces, I will basically sculpt onto a mannequin to make the right proportions, and so if you tuck, if you don’t, if you have a short waist or a long like torso, I love being able to sculpt a different beyond binary intersex style form onto these very gendered mannequins to be able to fit what the customer’s body actually looks like, and when I feel like the piece comes to life is when it’s on the person, it looks wild when it’s off a mannequin, it kind of just looks like an alien form, but as soon as it’s put onto the body that it’s made for, it moves in all the right ways and that’s where I get the most excited
Imara: Vieve. You and Vulpinic Vestments are trans joy.
I can’t wait to dive into this conversation with garment maker and designer of Rebirth Garments Sky Cubacub. Sky is a non-binary disabled Philippine X neuro queer who has been pushing the limits of the fashion world for years. They’re the creator of Rebirth Garments where they make unique colorful clothes for trans, queer and disabled people of all sizes. Sky launched the brand in 2014 and has been making custom binders, tucking undies and more to absolutely great reviews, but Sky’s creativity doesn’t stop there, they are the creator of the Radical Visibility zine, which celebrates disabled queer life and Joy.
Sky also serves as an editor at the literary fashion magazine, Just Femme and Dandy. Recently, Sky has started focusing on sharing their knowledge and supporting young people and creating their own clothing lines. As part of this work, they created a free online DIY fashion program with Chicago Public Library called Radical Fit. Sky’s groundbreaking vision has been featured in many publications including Nylon, Teen Vogue, and Playboy.
Sky was named Chicagoan of the Year by the Chicago Tribune in 2018, and I’ve been honored as both a Kennedy Center Citizen artist and a Disability Futures Fellow through the Ford Foundation. Sky thank you so much for joining me.
Sky: Thank you so much for having me.
Imara: This episode is going to plop down in the middle of Fashion Week. Plop is a technical term, but it’s gonna be released during the the middle of Fashion Week, and one of the questions I have for you is, from your perspective as a creator, what does it mean to trans and to queer fashion? Like what would fashion look like differently if it fully embraced trans people?
Sky: That’s what I’ve been working on the whole time I’ve been running my clothing line. I just had never really found things that felt gender affirming and also celebrated my identities, and felt cute and sexy, and was like aesthetically fun to me, so I started making stuff for myself when I was uh, early teen, and then I started making things for friends and then interviewed a lot of folks right before I started Rebirth Garments in 2014, to ask them what would make clothing more gender affirming to them, while at the same time fulfilling their aesthetic needs, and also their accessibility needs.
For me, I like to kind of push against how fashion has typically gone for folks. You know, we have endless things for straight, White, skinny, cis thin folks and I wanted to make something that was totally different, something that wasn’t assimilationist and wasn’t just trying to make these typical clothing for trans folks and disabled folks, but something totally that fit all of these needs that we have, so a lot of it is very directed by my folks that I interviewed and customers and friends, just to see what they specifically wanted.
Then I’d take their interviews and do my own little twist on it to make it more vibrant, and all about standing out and taking up space, taking a visual space, physical space, textural space, auditory space in the world.
Imara: You know, as a practitioner for more than a decade in your own clothing line, in response to what you saw as the ways in which fashion wasn’t being open to our community and to so many communities. There’s been so much talk in the meantime about making fashion “more inclusive”, you know, including plus size models and including trans models and a whole bunch of other things. I’m wondering from your perspective, does that feel like an actual substantive shift, or is that more on the surface level even as important as those changes are?
Sky: Well, I see more places trying to have like their “gender neutral” clothing lines, but they’ll do things like just having gray hoodies and jeans and sweatshirts and stuff like that, and it’s very like utilitarian, and they think that being gender neutral means being kind of like blank and stoic and boring, and I don’t really… I like hate that so much. I like want people to be able to dress however they want, and I don’t think that gender neutrality is a specific style, but rather taking all clothing as a whole and not having to assign genders to them.
Like I’ve talked over the years to different folks who own stores, or things like that and even big box stores saying like, oh, the way to really make things gender neutral is to like instead of having a women’s section in a men’s section, just have like a pants section and a shirt section and a dresses section and then it’s easier ’cause then you know exactly what type of garment you want to look for, and then you go to that section and then having sizing be more based on measurements rather than these arbitrary sizes that they think are standardized, but then they’re all over the place.
They’re all designed either to make you feel better about your body, or worse about your body because they all have this tone of like fat phobia around it. Uh, so then in the same way, like having more plus size fashion, or like fashion for fat folks, super fat folks and infinite of fat folks is always amazing, but then they put some sort of morality, or like design restrictions on these garments. I remember many years ago there was an interview with Tim Gunn that everybody was raving over ’cause he was talking about how, you know, despicable American fashion has been for ignoring plus-sized folks, in his words.
He just went at it like through a capitalist lens. Like being like, well that’s a huge market that people are ignoring, so it’s despicable because these could be potential money makers rather than humanizing fat and infinite fat and super fat folks, and being like, “Oh no, we should just make clothing for all sizes because everybody needs to be clothed and everybody deserves to be cute.” And he also talked about like all these ideas about what could be worn if you’re a fat person and-and saying like, “Oh you have to have specific proportions with your clothing.”
Like you can’t put somebody in a crop top. Like how dare basically, and I’m like, “What the fuck?” Like everybody is raving about this and sending me this article, and I’m like, he’s still being extremely fat phobic and saying that like, fat folks shouldn’t wear clothing that makes them feel sexy or cute or fun. He’s just like, “Oh, you have to have these specific proportions that are all like tied into erasure of fat folks and like making straight sized folks feel comfortable to look at fat folks.”
Yeah. I just don’t really think that fashion has made a lot of progress, and so that’s why I kind of feel like I’m more of a garment maker than a fashion designer.
Imara: If fashion is as you just touched upon as a locust[?] touched upon, is actually designed to reinforce existing power structures right through, as you said, having a men’s section and a women’s section, which automatically reinforces the gender binary not making certain clothes in certain sizes, which immediately as you say reinforces fat phobia. I’m wondering with regards to your clothes and what you’re doing at Rebirth Garments, what are you trying to make people feel, and what values are you trying to promote?
If the mainstream fashion industry is essentially promoting the existing power structure through clothes?
Sky: I’m trying to make people feel comfortable and confident in themselves, their body, their identities, their emotions, being able to celebrate their identities. A lot of the clothing that I sell are undergarments, like the chest binders and tucking undies, AKA gaffes, and so sometimes it’s not necessarily actually seen to a lot of folks, but like I had experienced a lot of my friends who wore binders, like other people to ever see them wearing their binder.
Like they couldn’t… like they would turn off lights or something and maybe take off their shirt, uh, but then not want to really see it, so I wanted to make things that if there was an accidental slip of seeing a binder like then it’d be okay, but more than okay, like if you could just wear it on its own as a really fun crop top basically, and then at the same time, like having this first layer of garments, the closest layer of garments to your skin being something that feels comfortable and helps you feel confident in yourself, then it completely changes the way that you hold yourself throughout the day.
Even with your other clothing on top of it. Yeah, it can make or break your day. Like my whole childhood I had a lot of sensory sensitivities. I mean I still do, but I just now have clothing that is comfortable to me, so the problem is much less bad, but I would have to wear my socks inside out and lots of times my underwear inside out and then still as soon as I’d get home I’d like throw off my socks and like I’d have to take off my underwear, and just like wear long loose t-shirts ’cause the underwear, like elastic bands would create bruises on my sides even if they were, you know, the correct sizing for me, ’cause I just have such sensitive skin and extreme sensory, sensitivities.
Imara: One of the things that you just brought into the conversation was the conversation around disability, and can you talk about the importance of us considering that in fashion and in making people feel good and sexy and comfortable regardless of what body they’re in?
Sky: Yeah. I mean not just regardless, but just like, yeah, we want everybody to feel amazing in their bodies and body minds. Yeah. I started rebirth as I gained another disability. I had always been neurodivergent and like pretty radically visibly mad, or like mentally ill my whole life, but then when I was 21 I gained kind of a stomach disorder. Now I think it might have had to do with me having polycystic ovarian syndrome, so, uh, just having, yeah, lots of stomach pains and for about a year I really hardly could eat anything, or digest because of stomach pains.
I could no longer wear a lot of the clothing that I had worn previously. All throughout high school I wore like really tight skinny jeans, like the-the trip jeans that were like patterned and fun looking, but then I could no longer wear what I call hard pants AKA woven pants, so like non stretch clothing. I had already known how to make spandex unitards from when I was in high school making my full chain mail garments ’cause that was like my main focus that helped me cope with my neurodivergence.
Is like constantly stemming, constantly fidgeting, so I made chain mail garments, but I had to come up with something to go underneath them because they were all a little bit too naked for high school, and my teachers were like, “We’re getting in trouble from parents. Like, you can be as naked as you want in college, but for now you have to come up with something.” So I learned how to make spandex unitards from my first girlfriend’s mom, and then when I gained this more physical disability when I was 21, I then took the knowledge of sewing spandex and started focusing on making spandex clothing.
Yeah, at the same time I wanted to make things that were good for my sensory sensitivities, and then I figured what fabrics to use for gender affirming compression garments, like chest binders and gaffes, which is a stretch fabric called power net, and I started making chest binders and packing boxer briefs for myself. Then was like, “Well if there’s other folks who are non-binary or trans and also have disabilities, then I should address that and make this like intersectional clothing line, and interview tons of folks to ask them what they needed out of their clothing.”
Yeah. Now one of my biggest customers or like group of customers is folks with ehlers-donlos syndrome, which is like you don’t produce the typical type of collagen, so it can make your skin kind of fragile and it can make your joints, uh, easily dislocate, so I make a lot of my like less tight binders for folks with ehlers-donlos syndrome, who could not wear typical binders because they would dislocate their ribs too easily.
Imara: That’s your approach, but then you’ve had outreach from larger stores that have called to ask you, “Hey, what can we do?” And I am wondering how they respond to what you say, and do you have any eye roll moments when you, when you talk to them.
Sky: Oh, I have tons of eye roll moments, but like, yeah, ’cause I just try to approach it in this way that is so simple, but they have some sort of block where they’re like, “Oh no, we couldn’t take away the signs that”… Like literally it’s just signs that say men’s and women’s section and just me being like, “Take that away and just label them as the types of garments.” Well some people have been like, “Oh, I never thought of that.” Um, so it’s like, “Okay, good. I’m glad you’re thinking about it now.”
I guess, but most of the time they just say that they couldn’t possibly do that, but it I don’t know, it just seems so simple to me, and like yeah, with my clothing I don’t really label anything. Like I just say chest binder, and then sometimes I’ll say like, something is designed with like trans men or trans women in mind, um, but like anybody can wear it ’cause I’ve had like trans women get chest binders for if they aren’t like out at work, or if they have to like visit their parents and their parents don’t know that they’re on hormones, so then they’ll wear a chest binder for that, so I’m like, yeah, like all the things can be worn by anybody.
Even if it was originally designed for somebody specific in mind and like yeah, I’ve seen that with some specific disability related items. Like, oh, this can also still be used for a different type of disability or yeah, even somebody who isn’t disabled yet, but yeah, most stores just seem very unwilling. They really want to just like design a third collection of clothing that is this “gender neutral” line, but it doesn’t push any type of envelopes of what could be worn as-as somebody who dresses gender neutrally.
Like they would never put dresses in it, because everything is also still very like centered around more masculine styles as being able to be neutral but “feminine style” could never be neutral in their eyes, but it’s like, yeah, anybody can wear a dress.
Imara: Anybody can wear anything. As you said,
Sky: Anybody can wear anything. Yeah.
Imara: Lastly, one of the things that is really powerful is that you’ve had the courage to create, you know, it takes a lot of courage to create something and you created it and you’ve stuck with it, right? You continue to do it, and there are lots of people out there in our community who have dreams and aspirations to be in fashion, to make clothes, to realize their ideas, to express themselves artistically through fabric, and I’m wondering, what do you say to people who feel like this is a field that’s not for them and that they could never find an audience for what they’re trying to do?
What-what do you say to people who are looking for that-that last thing that will take them over the line to start creating?
Sky: Well, I always think like if there’s something that you desire in the world, then it probably means that there’s other people who desire that same thing, or something similar. Uh, and that like that’s how I came to Rebirth garments is like I wanted to make stuff for myself showing off my like non-binary, you know, gender identities and then being good for my different disabilities and neuro divergencies, and making something that’s so personal to yourself. It does create something that can be universal I would say.
Like everyone’s always trying to talk about universal design, or like making something so that a general population would like something, and-and saying that you can’t have any of your personal ideas or your personal story in that, but I-I really just don’t believe that. I think if you make it so extremely personal to you, then it will resonate with other folks and it’ll resonate with the folks that need it the most, and with the folks that will be best for you to be in community with or connected to.
Yeah, I-I mean I would tell people to go check out the Radical fit playlist on the YOUmedia Chicago YouTube, which is the Chicago Public Library’s Teen Services Programming, and we have ninety videos about how to do different DIY fashion from accessories and hair and makeup, to creating your own chest binder or packing belt and some other amazing tutorials, both by me and a lot of my friends. It has been very hard to keep the clothing line going over the years, as I’ve become more disabled and gained more disabilities.
Like in 2019, I gained chronic fatigue syndrome from a post-viral illness of epstein-barr/mononucleosis, so I’ve had to extremely downsize my clothing line, but I’ve pivoted to something that’s been making me more happy, which is teaching youth and teens how to create their own clothing lines, so yeah, you can always try to pivot if making clothing for other people isn’t what you… what will make you happy, then you can always pivot to do something else like teaching, or coming up with other ways to satisfy the urge to make clothing, or have your creativity put out into the world.
Imara: Well, thank you so much for a really insightful and poignant conversation, and I can imagine the way that people feel when they are doning something that they know that someone put so much care in. Thank you so much.
Sky: Thank you so much.
Imara: That was garment maker and designer of Rebirth Garments, Sky Cubacub. I am so excited to be chatting with model activist and brand inclusivity consultant Ady Del Valle. As one of the few plus sized and fem models in the male and gender expansive fashion worlds. Ady has been dazzling on runways and in editorial shoots for over 7 years. He’s worked with major beauty brands from Sephora to milk makeup. You may have seen him gracing the digital pages of publications like Vogue, WWD, Dazed and Adweek.
He also strutted the runway at New York Fashion Week for DapperQ and Devonair earlier this year. In all of her work, Ady’s been an outspoken advocate for more intersectional inclusivity across the fashion industry. She founded the Latinx Collective as a platform to highlight Latinx and Bipo creatives and has worked with the human rights campaign and the It Gets Better Campaign. Ady was recently honored as a pride live everyday hero as part of Stonewall Day 2023. Ady, thank you so much for joining me today.
Ady: No, thank you for having me. I’m excited to have this conversation. Finally get to talk.
Imara: Yes, yes. I wanna know, when you decided to reclaim for yourself before you showed it to the world, the words fat and femme, because we haven’t spoken yet in great detail, but I would be shocked if when you were growing up, these are words that were associated with things that were positive in your life, so when for you, did you make that transformation?
Ady: Those 2 words were kind of like, are layered throughout my life. Like I grew up in a very conservative home, a Christian Pentecostal home all my life. My mom started going to church when I was like 2 years old, so I grew up in church all my life, so using the word femme was never, at least for me, was never in the language I-I would use even growing up, even in my teens, so I’ll start with the word femme, ’cause that’s when I started embracing myself with that word and taking ownership of that word for myself in a positive way.
I think is when I started modeling. ’cause growing up, like I never even saw myself as a model to begin with. Plus as a fat model to, you know, to start off ’cause I never saw anyone that looked like me in media or in fashion ever doing anything like this, and I’m like, we need to like claim like these words, and it’s not even like words, it’s just claiming our bodies for what it is and just embracing it, and I think those terms in a sense, it’s like you kind of embrace them because it’s what makes you.
Also the femme comes to play when I started more like embracing my insides, and kind of wanted to show that on the outside, and that’s more like recent or that’s more maybe like the last 3 or like 3 year-ish kinda embracing my feminine side in a sense, because like I’ve always felt my fem side growing up always, but never been able to express that on the outside, so I’ve been able to do that.
Especially through like fashion, but slowly like that’s more like a recent expression for me and like the… I wanna say the last 3 or 4 years and kind of like embracing that because it shows like my… you know, other sides of me that I don’t feel like I have to hide is a part of me and what makes me, me.
Imara: Growing up in a Pentecostal church with very rigid gender roles, with very, you know, specific ideas around behavior and who behaves how. How did you ever break free of that? Because I think that when people would look at your images right now and everything that you do, I mean, in many ways you embody liberation. Liberation looks like what you’re doing, so how did you come to that point of breaking free from, you know, those very rigid cages that you were placed in?
Ady: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a really good question and I think it’s a question that kind of dives deep into how like not only me, but many of us grew up in households like mines. It’s been a journey because I’m literally, what I express now is a total opposite of what I was because of how I grew up, but it’s always how I felt on the inside, but growing up like in a household, especially in a Pentecostal household, I came out later in you know, in my adult life.
Like it’s something that I slowly developed and when I started modeling it kind… that kind of like was like that foundation that said like, you know what, I’m gonna use this platform to be myself fully. Like I wanted to be that not only for myself but for other people to be able to do that themselves. That was like a journey because it’s kind of like you’re unlearning so much stuff that you grew up, you know, being told and being, you know, taught that you’re not supposed to be or do, and it’s like, why not?
We’re not hurting, we’re not hurting anyone. I’m not hurting anyone. I’m just trying to be myself. I’m trying to express myself how I feel on the inside, and honestly it’s like the best thing I did for myself. Especially because honestly like if I didn’t really like had like the courage to come out and be myself open, I probably would not be here right now ’cause it was probably one of the darkest moments in my life, and it also has been the best decision I ever did for myself and for my peace, my mental peace and my sanity.
Imara: You brought it up a couple times and I wanna ask you a question about it, because I think that in so many ways, those moments, those really low moments in our lives are things that we don’t talk about. What was this darkest moment that you have described? And I’m asking you because a lot of people get there, right? And too many people in our community, because of the world that we live in, can’t escape those dark moments, right?
The walls just close in on them and we lose them in a variety of ways, so I’m wondering if you can just talk about what that darkest moment was for you and how, as you said, modeling began to help you break free from that.
Ady: Yeah, yeah. I-I probably haven’t spoken to many people about this part of my story. I’ve like, you know, slowly, but I don’t mind sharing it ’cause I feel like so many people are going through this and have gone through this and can relate. Yeah, it’s that darkest moment, I was probably like around 27 years old and those 2 years between 25 and 27 were really dark. Like I would cry myself to sleep. I would… I was hiding what I was doing. Like I would like make up stuff for my, you know, my family and like,\ ’cause I’m-I’m trying to live at the same time, but I wasn’t out so I was trying to kind of like balance everything out.
While keeping I guess everyone happy I guess, but also in a, in a secret, and I’m like, I couldn’t do it anymore ’cause it’s like I’m not living, even if I’m doing what I want to, like on the side, like in secret, I’m not enjoying it because I’m not free. It’s like almost you’re please, you’re trying to please everyone but also trying, you’re hiding a part of yourself that you can’t really show to your family or the people you know because you’re afraid of the outcome.
It was that in a lot of things is layered in my, you know, in my mind and it was just weighing so heavy on me that I contemplated like a lot of like, you know, like hurtful thoughts in a better sense in other words. You know, and I never was a person to think that way. I’ve always been as a positive person, but it was weighing heavy on me those last 2, 3 years before I came out and I just couldn’t do it, and I honestly like found refuge like in my sister, because my sister had came out a couple years before I did.
That part really made it more difficult for me ’cause it’s only me and my sister and I’m like, “I can’t do that to my mom. She can’t have 2 gay children.” That was another layer to my… to that dark space, and I confided in my sister, she kind of like gave me like the best advice. She’s younger than me, but she’s really wise and she’s like, “You have to do this for you ’cause this is not good for yourself.” You know, so I kind of had to build like that foundation and have at least that one person that was on my side to kind of like get out of that dark space ’cause I couldn’t do it alone.
At least it felt like that, and-and I wasn’t sure if like I was gonna be accepted or not. You know, because of all the comments you would hear throughout the years that your parents would say like on the slide, or all your driving that were hurtful but about, you know, the community and but you kind of kept it and swallowed it up or laughed it off with them so they don’t think you were, you know, whatever.
Um, I kind of like decided like I have to let this go, and the only 2 people I cared to tell was my mother and my grandmother. ’cause like that’s who I grew up with. Those are the 2 people that raised me and the people I love the most, and I just got them together and I told them that I was gonna back off and my sister was tapping me on my knee. Like, “You need to tell them you need to get this out because this is not good for you.” And I just ended up telling them and it was the best decision I did.
It went better than I thought, um, in a sense that first initial reaction wasn’t good, but it went better than I thought, because not a lot of people have that privilege of gambling their selves and their feelings and also their lives to kind of like, I’m just gonna do it.
Imara: Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that, so you got to this dark point and you realized that you had to come out. At the same time you-you said that you-you started modeling and you didn’t expect to model, and I’m wondering if you can tell us how that happened, because modeling is an industry that is hostile to people who don’t meet a very strict image of the way that our bodies are supposed to be and operate, but for you, what’s interesting is that for you, it-it is a space that actually helped to affirm who you were and help you become more of who you are, so how did modeling actually do that for you? How did you come to-to become a model?
Ady: Yeah. Yeah. It just happened Imara, honestly it just happened. I wasn’t looking for it. I’ve always loved fashion. I always was watching fashion shows. I collected all the Vogue magazines, the Cosmo magazines under my bed. I had hundreds of them ’cause I loved fashion, but I never seen myself modeling or anything. I opened my Instagram when Instagram started happening and I was just… I was posting regular selfies like everyone else was, but then I started seeing like influencers were kind of happening back then, and people posting style pics or street style stuff.
I’m like, ‘I wanna do that. I think I dressed pretty cool.” Um, it, looking back, I probably wasn’t but um, so I started doing the same thing, kind of mimicking what I was seeing, but I wanted to do it because I didn’t see anyone doing it that looked like me, and I just started posting photo and this was like 2014 or something, like this was a while ago, and I started doing that in a Indie brand designer who was showcasing his first collection during New York Fashion Week, reached out to me ’cause he was following me for a bit.
He was like, “I like your style, I like your look. I wanna see if you wanna like model for the show.” And I was like, “Hmm, this is a joke. You know, this is not happening.” And I consulted with my family or whatever and like this person is asking me this, but they’re like, “What you gotta lose?” Like whatever, so I accepted, so 2 months later I was in New York in Manhattan and I arrived, you know, on set and there was other guys that looked like me on set and I’m like, “Okay, this is legit.”
It was, you know, an amazing experience, and there was also like signed big and tall models, ’cause back then that’s when they were starting to get signed and it was kicking off with big and tall men models, and some of them were there and I’ve never met them in person, so it was like a big deal for me, and the show went… you know, it went amazing, and ever since I did that, like kind of like it snowballed effect from there.
Imara: You started and as you said it, it started organically.
Ady: Yeah. Yeah.
Imara: You started posting and someone reached out to you and then you went and you were like, “Oh, this, I can do this.” And then it kick started this entire career, but one of the things that has also emerged, I think very much so is the embracing of your sexuality. Especially on, you know, your Instagram page where again, like you are flipping these terms of being fat and femme, uh, which people as we know online often have been treated as slurs and are made fun of, but you have turned them into, again, a source of liberation and sexuality for yourself.
How did you move into that, ’cause that’s a whole nother level of, you know, embracing your image and who you are.
Ady: I wanna be able to represent truly who I am without trying to fit any mold that the industry already has in place, ’cause we already have enough of it, and kind of embracing and owning who I was through imagery, imagery alone. Like, you know, I’m a fat model and imagery alone is so powerful and sends out a message, and that’s how I kind of send out my message, but while embracing myself, embracing my feminine side, embracing my masculine side, embracing everything that I am.
It can be sexy, it could be not be sexy, it can be fashion, it could be editorial, and I always try to put pieces of me in anything I put out because I want it to represent me fully. Hopefully I’m doing that, you know, with the work I do in whatever space I’m taking up in the industry.
Imara: Yeah. I mean I think that, you know, one of the things that we know about the history of fashion and high fashion, and the way that it’s developed is that, you know, it was really instrumental in reinforcing very white supremacist patriarchal notions around gender, around thinness, around health, around who mattered, who could be beautiful, and kind of everything that you do and the way that you own it, totally upends those like those origins.
You know, that’s-that’s what makes it really interesting and avant-garde in a lot of ways, and also, you know, says something about in some interesting way about how actually fashion might be shifting right now. Do you feel that?
Ady: Yeah, no, definitely 100%. Like there’s a shift happening. It’s not happening fast enough, but the shift is happening, so it can be… it becomes a little lonely at times, but at the same time that kind of, that’s my… that motivates me to kind of like, you know, I can do what my other counterpart is doing. I’m capable of doing it ’cause they have their representation. I still don’t, and I probably do in some spaces, but we need to normalize it.
Imara: I think that’s a really powerful point that you just made, right? Which is that yes, I am here and me, um, through my work as an individual is really helping to shift what’s possible, but it’s not enough because it’s just me, and what we need to do is to normalize this, like as you’re saying, like models, like you should not be singular. There should be a dime a dozen, not a dime a dozen ’cause you’re you, but you know what I mean?
We should be prolific in terms of like seeing other types of people and bodies and gender presentations and we’re not there yet, and so I think that’s a really powerful point where you own what you do and understand its power, but also at the same time are calling for more fundamental change, because it shouldn’t just be you.
Ady: Right. Right, and these are conversations I have with brands that I work with behind the scenes, that I’ve had before, and that’s how the brand consultation happened for me. It’s like, who is in your team to kind of like make like this happen? Like you need to have the right people to have the right delivery, so people can feel seen and represented.
I have these conversations and it-it-it-it took me a bit because it’s like, I don’t wanna like step on toes, but I realized there was a way you can approach it respectfully without like you like putting your career at risk or anything ’cause a lot of people lose, you know, lose opportunity for being vocal, so I’m like, there has to be a way around it where you can have these conversations and dialogues with brands or with companies, or whatever where they understand where you’re coming from. ’cause it’s like, if you’re hiring me, I cannot be the only one you’re hiring that looks like me in the future. You know what I mean?
Imara: Well thank you so much for telling us about the moments that are great and the moments that are challenging and helping to, um, change the way that we see ourselves and the way that we see modeling and fashion, and the way that these brands relate to us. I just wanna thank you so much for not only what you do, but also for telling us what you’ve been through. I know it’s gonna touch a lot of people.
Ady: No, thank you Imara, for having… this was great. I’ve been excited to do this interview. Uh, hopefully we get to meet one day, and also congratulations on everything that’s happening to you. Like that is…
Imara: Thank you so much.
Ady: Happy, and it’s exciting I’m sure. Like bask in it. You deserve it.
Imara: Thank you so much. I’m gonna feed your words about owning it.
Ady: Yes, yes. Always.
Imara: Always, always. That was Ady Dell Valle, model, activist and change maker. Thank you for joining me on the TransLash Podcast. Now listen all the way through to the end of the show for something extra. The TransLash podcast is produced by TransLash Media. The TransLash team includes Oliver-Ash Klein and Aubrey Calloway. Xander Adams is a contributing producer to the show, and our sound engineer digital strategy is handled by Daniella Capistrano, [inaudible] Beckwith is our social media producer.
The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of ZZK records. If you like what you heard, please go to Apple Podcast to rate and review us. You can listen to TransLash wherever you get your podcast. Check us out on the web @translash.org to sign up for our weekly newsletter. Follow us on Twitter, or I guess we should say X and Instagram at TransLash media, like us on Facebook and tell your friends. The TransLash podcast is made possible by the support of foundations and listeners like you.
This week I am looking forward to an award that I am getting from the national LGBTQ organization in LGAGA, which is the LGBTQ Journalist Association. I’m being awarded, uh, the 2023 Lisa Ben Award for achievement and features coverage for the work on anti-trans hate machine, so super excited about that and I’m looking forward to being in Philadelphia with my colleagues and, uh, receiving that award. It should be a good time, so if you’re in Philadelphia, come say hi.
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