When we heard the story of ‘Izzy Wheels’ on Nationwide, we really had to contact the girls to hear the lovely story behind this new business run by designer, Ailbhe Keane aged 23 from Galway. Isabel, Ailbhe’s younger sister was born with Spina Bifida and uses a wheelchair. She wanted to be able to customise her chair to reflect her personality. Ailbhe designed and produced a range of clip on spoke guards with an array of styles. Izzy Wheels was inspired by Ailbhe’s sister in a similar way to the Shona Project was inspired by Tammy’s big sister Shona. So we just had to chat about it….
Ailbhe, you are killing it at the moment with your designs. How has the last year been for you?
The last year has definitely been a bit crazy! I never expected to be running a business straight out of college. It happened very naturally though. The idea sparked from the frustration my sister had growing up. It bothered her so much that there was nothing available to her to personalise her wheelchair even though she spent all of her time in it. Her chair was the first thing people noticed about her so it should look good. When I was in my final year in NCAD I decided to focus on creating accessories to empower wheelchair users, like Isabel, to feel more confident in their chairs. I designed a range of personalised spoke guards for wheelchairs and would post up pictures on my Instagram to show them off. I never expected the reaction it got, it just sort of took off! Within a few weeks I was getting messages from wheelchair users all over the world wondering where they could get their hands on a set of Izzy Wheels.
We love to hear about people making a success out of what some would consider a challenge, and creating a positive message. Why do you think this project is so important, what does it mean to wheelchair users?
Self expression is a human right! Your wheelchair is the first thing that someone will notice about you whether you like it or not. It is our aim to portray a wheelchair as a positive thing. Society needs to start thinking less about the chair and more about the person. Your wheelchair shouldn’t have to just look like a lump of metal, it should be a piece of self expression. Izzy Wheels transforms your chair into a piece of fashion and allow you to show the world who you are and see beyond the disability. Being different is a brilliant thing.
Izzy inspired your designs, as you wanted her to be able to express herself. Tell us about your relationship as sisters, and how it may have changed since Izzy Wheels started?
Isabel and I have been best friends since we were little. She was my inspiration for the product. We work very well as a team because she, being in a wheelchair, is able to identify the problems that need addressing. I come from a design background and have a passion for problem solving. Dream team!
What’s next for Izzy Wheels? What are you both planning to do next?
We are growing as a business more and more every week. Our plan is to keep this pace going! We are involved in lots of exciting upcoming events so keep an eye on our social media. While we are focussing on spoke guards at the moment this is just the beginning and we plan to expand and develop a full collection of fashionable accessories for wheelchair users.
We wish Ailbhe and Izzy the best, what an amazing achievement x
You can watch Izzy Wheels on Nationwide here.