On Loving Yourself with GNAT Glitter Kink

Combining femme-centric fetish wear with glittery plastic and PVC, GNAT Glitter Kink is a bondage and kink line geared towards queer femmes. The designer, artist, and Chicago event host — a person who wears several hats — is Gnat Rosa Madrid, who creates these one-of-a-kind fashions for intimate play or for self-admiration and to promote safe, consensual, and positive sex.

It’s hard to not become utterly obsessed with GNAT’s products. Moreover, the face behind the business is a dedicated and fierce individual who believes in kink, celebrating POC femmes, queer visibility, and promoting sex positivity. I met Gnat in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago over coffee to discuss the queer night life scene, behind-the-scenes production, and the future of Gnat’s up and coming business as a kink fashion designer.

Could you tell me about your beginnings: Where you’re from, how you got started with making garments, where you went to school?

My name is Gnat Rosa Madrid. I am 26. I’ve been here in Chicago for about eight years. I’m originally from Texas. I’m Tejana and Latinx. I identify strongly with all of that. I came to Chicago in 2009 to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I received my BFA. I studied Fashion Design. That program at SAIC is a speciality program where when you’re accepted to the school, you have to apply to the program. It’s very intense but I loved it. Because I was putting myself through school, I worked very very hard, you know? I was like, “I don’t have anybody to impress except for myself.” I loved my time there. I specifically studied a lot of accessory design. At SAIC you learn how to do women’s wear, men’s wear, and everything in between. It was super binary at the same time.

When I graduated, I received a fellowship from our final show, “The Walk.” So I won the “Walk Fellowship” and used that money to start my studio at home. I had started making kink gear in 2011. I originally made it for a gallery show. Me and my friends did this gallery show and I made the item for the wall, as a sculptural piece, about femme sexuality and kinkiness. Then I was making pieces for myself because I was going to nightclubs and queer parties. People were always asking me, “Where did you get that?” or “Will you make me one?” And I was always like, “I don’t know, I guess.” My friends pestered me enough that I opened an Etsy shop — that’s where GNAT began. It’s been going pretty steady since school but it’s become a more full time brand since I graduated.

Are all your pieces custom?

It’s almost all custom because I use so many colors and because I believe in making pieces that fit all bodies. Someone will buy the piece online, they will let me know their size, what color they want, and any other specifics about their body or gender so that I can make the piece perfect for them. Some stuff I do make ahead of time. I usually sell those items off to shops here in Chicago. I sell at Early 2 Bed and I also sell at Kokorokoko Vintage.

Do you sell outside of Chicago?

I do, yeah. I sell at Please in Brooklyn. I have a ton of other folks around the country talking to me about wholesale for their shops. Right now it’s a matter of figuring out the logistics. It’s great because there is no shortage of demand. I just have to figure out how to make all of that happen.

What originally sparked your interest in making kink gear? Did it come from a personal interest or something that you thought there needed to be more of in the queer community?

I was first inspired to make my gear from my personal identity and my personal experience. I’ve always been a kinky, queer person. I wanted some pieces for my own life that fit my identity a little bit better. I think that gay men have a lot of access to BDSM and kinky space and leather spaces. Queer women do not. I wanted to create pieces as practice that I could use with my partners. It grew from there. I have an innate curiosity with accessories and pieces that aren’t garments that people use throughout their lives. I feel like a shirt or something is very ephemeral. Materials like leather, vinyl, PVC, or plastic are more exciting to me. They last longer and they are more durable.

Yeah, I was going to ask about materials. Is there a specific one that you favor more than others? I don’t know anything about creating garments. That whole world is so foreign to me. I don’t know if this question is naive but what’s it like working with different materials?

 Oh, not at all! Sure. You know, a lot of folks who make work like mine, like harness and stuff for fashion, use a lot of leather. I love leather but I think there is enough of it out there. I started making pieces out of really glittery vinyl and clear PVC and stuffing it with sequins — just experimenting with my materials. That was very well received. I think folks felt more represented by those materials. I find it personally exciting because I love color, I love textures. I definitely favor the glittery vinyl that I use but I also love the really thick clear PVC that I sometimes use. I do want to move more into leather because it lasts even longer and appeals to more people. I don’t want my brand to lose its colorful femme quality.

Right. Have you collaborated with any designers? I interviewed Rebirth Garments for another platform and I believe that we talked about you.

 Aw, I love Sky. Yeah, we went to school together. We have been friends since then, so over six or seven years, I think. I’ve collaborated on parties with them but never on specific garments. But Sky is one of my biggest fans and owns like one of everything that I make. It’s so sweet. They bought them early on while I was still in school. They bought everything.

Some of my favorite collaborations have been with Imp Queen. They are a Chicago non-binary trans fashion queer icon — as I’m sure you know. They are super amazing. We’ve also been friends for a really long time. Yeah, they understand me and my process very well. They’ll come to me with ideas, sketches, concepts. Those are some of my favorite collaborations that I’ve done. 

You’re also really involved with hosting events. Can you maybe talk about some of those?

I started doing events in Chicago maybe a year and a half ago. I’ve always gone to parties. I’ve always been interested in queer nightlife. My main resident gig is Duro at Berlin. It’s a queer Latinx dance party. It’s so fun. I do it with my best friends. We create an affirming space for queer Latinx folks to be queer, while being Latinx, and to hear music that affirms both of their identities at the same time. I frequently host Femme’s Room, which is here in Chicago. It’s done by Lucy Stoole and Scott Cramer. It’s a femme affirming event. Those are my main events.

I’m always available for people to bring me on, or book me, for their gigs. I do want to get more into creating my own parties and event management and planning. I think I’m really good at that.

Cool! When you first started doing these events, did someone contact you or did you contact them?

They all came to me, which is great. I didn’t have to book the space or book the DJ or anything. With Duro, my friend [X]P, who is the DJ, knew that I was coming because I love that party. At the time, it was only him in the DJ booth with no decorations, performances, nothing. He asked me to come host it for him. From there, we built it out. Now we have performances, we have decorations.

Every month it’s different. I really helped create the ambiance of that space to really mirror the amazing music that [X]P was playing. He was playing amazing stuff but there weren’t enough people there to revel in that moment. It’s at Berlin, every second Wednesday.

Chicago has such a great, queer nightlife community. It’s so intertwined. Because Chicago is in between LA and New York, most people don’t put us on the map. It’s this little treasure in our city.

Totally! When I got here and was starting parties, the parties were very gay and queer. They weren’t very affirming to femmes. I think we were moving towards that slowly, and it wasn’t anybody’s fault. I think that me joining the scene really helped create that space for queer women, and for femmes and non-binary people who weren’t masculine identified. I feel really excited about that.

Also, at Duro I have a cocktail hour before the party because the party starts really late. It’s called Bebidas With Bae, which is Drinks With Bae. It’s queer women centric, which Berlin usually is not. It’s mostly gay dudes. It’s been really great to create that femme space and I’m looking forward to working with more queer femmes in the scene to make more spaces like that. It’s really important.

Are most of the people who contact you for pieces performers?

You know, sometimes I don’t know and then stuff will turn up on the internet and I’m like “Ohhhhh!” Here and there, that will happen, which is really cool. If someone internet famous will buy something, they’ll have it on. So that’s cool. Other performers have reached out to me as well. The producers from Transparent reached out to me. They are doing an orgy scene so I sent them over a bunch of stuff.

Mostly, I think it’s more people’s private use. I think the people who wear it in performances and stuff get the most attention. I make a lot of stuff. I recently closed my Etsy shop and started my own domain web shop within the last year. When I closed my Etsy shop, I think it was something like 600 orders on there. It’s like, “wow!” I’m just so surprised at how much work I’ve made, especially since it’s all handmade. It’s all out there! I think that’s so cool!

I feel super lucky, having gone to art school, to have found a medium that kind of fits into capitalism. I know that’s really hard. I don’t think that capitalism or money should be a huge part of art making but unfortunately it is. I feel lucky and privileged. It’s a small business. It has its ups and downs. Because I didn’t go to business school, it’s something that I’m constantly learning. I think you can kind of learn anything on the internet though.

I think so too.

I have a Macbook and it has all the forms and stuff. I’m faking it until I make it in terms of my business. That’s the best you can do, right?

Right!

Thank god for the internet. It creates access for anybody to make anything.

…and to get your work out there for people to see it. You’re constantly networking.

 Yeah, now I sell my stuff all around the world. For a couple of years I was selling maybe a quarter of my business to Australia and New Zealand. I don’t know what was going on there. It’s really cool that people in Melbourne, especially, were really into my stuff. I had to figure out the shipping because I would always pay more than I charged them. Always! But yeah, these really cool kids would show up wearing my pieces.

I recently did this really cool podcast. I’ve never done a podcast before but I loved it so much because I could really tell my story in more ways than just images. I want to do more of that.

I think that my background and my experiences definitely inform my practice. I think that, as a queer femme woman who’s gone through a lot in life, I have a lot to share. I hope that sharing my experiences or my practice with others will help them feel more empowered, grounded, and in solidarity. I think it’s important.

And to also share your story alongside your work.

This is something that I definitely want to talk about for sure. I read your articles before and I think that they are so great, especially in how you portray people. I was thinking a lot about intimacy and vulnerability in sex. I was writing about this a couple of days ago. I think that a lot of people think that I make my work for them to use with a partner, or a few partners. That is true, for sure. I think I make my work for people to experience their own sexuality with themselves in a heightened way. When someone puts on my work, I want them to feel activated in a certain way and tap into their own desires, their own pleasure, their own sense of self.

I actually name all of my style names after crystals and after manmade crystals. These are crystals that scientists infused with different chemicals to make them more powerful in terms of crystal healing. I was thinking about how each piece charges a person in a different way, individually, like a crystal. This helps them have better sex innately within themselves. Maybe they are using that energy to jerk off or worship themselves. Maybe they are using that energy to go to the club and dance all night.

I want them to feel in their own power and in their own sexuality. I think that having a deep connection with your own sexuality, not worrying about performing so much, is the most important thing to me when creating this work.

I think that’s super important. Celebrate yourself, your sexuality identity — whatever that may be — and hone in on what you want. I feel like that’s something that I recently discovered so it’s become this sort of obsessive thought in my mind.

 Yes! It’s so hard to deconstruct that though. Especially as women and femmes. We are programmed to worry about so many other people’s pleasure so often that we have to really make an active effort to look into ourselves and to see what we are comfortable with.

My work is very sex positive and encouraging to look into sex and all the ways it can make you feel great to the individual. Another part that is really important about sex positivity is recognizing when and how you want to have sex. And if you don’t want to, that’s okay. There is not something wrong with you. I want to further affirm that with my work, people don’t have to be sexually active. They are just in love with themselves and they want to worship themselves.

Sometimes people say, “I want to buy something from you but I don’t have a boo right now.” And I’m like, “That doesn’t matter!”

Do you look at other designers out there? Are you looking at what other people are doing?

I am still very young in the sense of how I’m processing my sexuality and how I’m processing my trauma. Even though I’ve been making this work for a while, it’s still in its beginning stages.

I’m tapped into fashion a little bit. I did this really cool internship in Paris a few years ago with Bernhard Willhelm. I still keep up a bit but I don’t think it’s necessarily an industry that I want to work in.

What about in terms of people who are making kink wear?

Oh, totally! You know, the idol is Zana Bayne. She’s amazing and she brought all of us fetish designers into a fashion sphere. I think of fashion as a fetish. I think that my work goes even deeper into explicitly making that fetish a reality. All fashion, when you’re putting it on, is a fetish. You’re tapping into something. I’m curious to see how my work evolves and how my peers’ work evolves.

A lot of people wear my work in a fashion context. Because I went to school for design, my work is very useable. It’s for fashion and play. It’s not just a pretty thing. You can pull someone around. You can be using it in a scene. I think that’s important because I never know how someone is going to use it.

Yeah, you’re giving them the choice.

Yeah! Maybe a fashion moment turns into a sexual moment. Like when you’re dressed up and you’re in a heightened state of arousal for yourself cause you’re looking so cute.

Yeah! It projects. Where do you see GNAT, or yourself, going in the future?

You know, I envision stuff here and there. Some people ask me if I want my own GNAT shop. I used to say no, but I could also imagine a concept shop full of really fun, sexual objects. I think femme-owned and operated sex shops are so vital to us. They are so amazing but sometimes they come off a little nerdy — which is great, I love that those people put in the work and the knowledge to get us these amazing products — but I imagine this amazing concept of a sexy shop, sort of like how Marc Jacobs does concept stores, but with my products, other peoples products, art, different design experiences. We’ll see about that.

I want to do more photo shoots, for sure. Right now, I’m just working on building out my new shop that’s live already. I want to do more events, for sure. Collaborating more with more femmes.

International Mr. Leather is coming up. That’s normally for like gay leather men but I am doing an event with Femme’s Room. I’ll be hosting an IML femme party.

I’ve also been starting to host these play parties with my best friend. It’s actual femme for femme play parties here in Chicago. I’ve done some of them before with other organizations but we’ve got this new thing that’s intimate, fun, and empowering. So we’ll see where that goes.

I’m also going to be in a gallery show at LVL3 in a show called Ltd. Wear.

I don’t know! We’ll see!