Izzy Wheels: If you can’t stand up, stand out

Izzy Wheels is a company set up by Ailbhe and Izzy Keane, two sisters from Taylor’s Hill in Galway city. Izzy is a 20 year-old student currently studying in NUI Galway who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. Ailbhe is her older sister who graduated with a 1.1 from National College of Art and Design who started Izzy Wheels as her final year project.

Izzy Wheels designs covers for wheelchair wheels, costing €139 for a pair. The covers are exquisitely designed by artists. Recently, Izzy Wheels did a collaboration with Orla Kiely. A percentage of all sales go to disability charities in Ireland. Both Ailbhe and Izzy have appeared on RTE’s The Late Late show and The Today Show to promote the business. SIN caught up with the sisters to find out what gave them the idea for Izzy Wheels and what their plans for the future are.

“When I was in my final year in NCAD I was inspired by a brief which asked me to ‘empower the lives of people living with long term lifestyle related health conditions’,” explained Ailbhe.

“Decorating my sister’s wheels has been something we have been doing for years. I decided to dedicate my final year of college to transforming wheelchairs into works of art. I created decorative wheel covers for my sisters chair that matched her outfits and her personality,” she continued.

“In art college, I really learned the importance of attention to detail. Within a few weeks of finishing college in June 2016,  I was approached by Enterprise Ireland who really believed in me and my idea. They gave me entrepreneurial training, funding and office space. They helped me turn our project into a business that we could scale.”

Izzy wants to challenge people’s perception of wheelchairs and she believes Izzy Wheels help to do this.

“I think the biggest misconception that people have about wheelchairs is that they stop a person from being able to do things. My wheelchair does not disable me, it enables me to do so, so much!” she told SIN.

“Izzy Wheels allows wheelchair users to portray their wheelchairs as something positive to everyone they meet, and they can use their wheelchairs to express their individual personalities,” Izzy added.

“We want to break down the stigma with wheelchairs. We want to encourage people with disabilities to embrace the things which make them different. We are giving wheelchair users the freedom to express themselves in a new and unique way.”

Izzy studies French, Sociology and Political Science in NUI Galway and is full of praise for the accessibility of the campus.

“The campus is literally the most accessible place I have ever been! It’s brilliant!” she said.

Ailbhe and Izzy feel that their bond as sisters helped the company grow.

“We have always been really close and have spent a lot of time together so when we started the business we didn’t have to overcome the stumbling block of not feeling comfortable approaching each other with different ideas,” said Izzy.

Izzy Wheels has gone from strength to strength, and are hoping to grow more and more into the future.

“We are the winners of 7 national awards, we are selling our product in 30 countries, we have collaborated with 25 world famous artists, our video has been viewed over 15 million times and we have been featured in some of the worlds biggest media outlets including Instagram official, Adobe, Insider and TechCrunch,” said Ailbhe.

It’s clear that Izzy Wheels will only grow into a bigger and even better company, making a positive impact on society by breaking down the stigma associated with disabilities.

By Áine Kenny

Image designed by Kim Sielbeck.

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