Izzy Wheels launched in 2017. Tell us how the brand came about and your proudest moment so far.
My sister and I are the founders of Izzy Wheels: a range of stylish wheel covers for wheelchairs. They transform the medical device into a piece of fashion and self-expression. Our motto is ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out!’.
Izzy Wheels was inspired by my sister Izzy who was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from her waist down. Growing up she found it frustrating and upsetting that there was nothing available for her to personalize her wheelchair. Her mechanical chair was the first thing that people noticed about her. But it wasn’t a reflection of her bright and bubbly personality. She has a very positive relationship with her wheelchair and sees her disability as a major part of her identity. I studied art and design in college. In my final year in 2016, I created a range of colorful, fashionable, artistic wheel covers, so that her chair expressed her individual style.
My project received first-class honors and videos of Izzy modeling her Izzy Wheels went completely viral online. A video we made was viewed 3 million times in one day and 16 million times in one week. Suddenly we were getting messages of support from people all over the world. After seeing how much Izzy loved the designs, and the confidence boost they gave her, we came up with more of them. So we decided to open up an online store in 2017 and began collaborating with other famous designers to create limited edition wheel cover designs.
We’ve now created collections with 50 different designers and have a waiting list of over 900 designers who wish to design for Izzy Wheels. The collaborations with high profile designers shines a very positive light on disability representation and bridges the gap between disability and fashion.
You and your sister were featured on Forbes 30 under 30 list last year, how does that feel?
It’s wonderful to be in a network of such passionate, driven and hardworking people. It was a huge honor to make the list.
Where does the inspiration come from for the wheel designs?
We give all of our designer’s complete creative freedom as to what they would like to put on their wheel covers. A rotating disk is a fun object to design because you have to take into consideration that the design must look as good sideways and upside down.
You’ve collaborated with some amazing designers! What was it like working with Orla Kiely?
Every designer we have collaborated with has been an absolute pleasure to work with! We work very closely with them throughout the design process so they all become great friends of ours.
You recently launched a design competition on your Facebook page, giving people the opportunity to be part of the next wheel cover collection! Has this been something you’ve wanted to do for a while? What sort of designs are you looking for?
We had been getting dozens of messages every week from designers asking can they be part of our collections. So opening it up to the public seemed like a natural progression. There have been over 900 applications from designers since we did the open call! We keep them all on record and then carefully choose 10 designers for our final collections. As a brand we work with artists, graphic designers, illustrators, fashion designers, design studios, painters, and street artists. We choose designers whose work is really distinctive and stands out from the crowd.
What’s your favourite wheel cover design and what do you love about it?
We recently designed very special wheel covers for a bride and groom who were both wheelchair users! I designed white rose wheel covers to match the bride’s bouquet and created matte blue wheels for the groom to compliment his lovely suit. It was a huge honor to play a part in their big day.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business, that is inclusive of disability and chronic illness?
Disability design is a massively undeserved area. Most designers are totally unaware of the size of the market. Who better to design for people with disabilities than the people themselves? Nobody has a better understanding of the disability and chronic illness space than the people living with them. If you have a good idea you should go for it because if it’s something that you can directly relate to you will have the drive and passion to turn it into a success.
Speak to as many people as possible before you build a product. Just because you think something is a super idea doesn’t mean that other people will want to actually buy it. It’s important to get as much feedback as possible from users. We spoke to as many wheelchair users as possible and got them to try out our products before we launched anything online.
What does the future have in store for Izzy Wheels?
We are creating more than colorful wheel covers, we are creating a movement. When a user is wearing colorful Izzy Wheels they are a conversation starter. They act as an icebreaker and address the wheelchair in a positive way. Izzy gets compliments on her wheels every day from strangers so people engage with her in situations where they otherwise would not have.
We are also contacted by hundreds of people who felt inspired by us to decorate their mobility equipment such as walking frames, canes and prosthetic limbs. Schools have even started doing Izzy Wheels Workshops with their students to create wheel art inspired by our work. Our story is being added to a number of school books in Ireland to as a way to educate children, teenagers and adults about inclusivity.
We will continue to raise awareness, create stylish accessories for wheelchair users and build a fashion brand for people with disabilities.
Want to find out more? Head to Izzy Wheels and check out their amazing wheelchair cover designs!