“If you can’t stand up, stand out”. This is the motto of sisters Izzy and Ailhbe and the premise behind their design and business venture, Izzy Wheels. Ailhbe and Izzy – who was born with Spina Bifida and is paralysed from the waist down – spent their childhood decorating Izzy’s wheelchair for special occasions, frustrated with the lack of customisation products on the market for wheelchair users. In her final year at The National College of Art and Design, Ailhbe designed a series of wheelchair covers for her sister to great success and Izzy Wheels was born.
The brand has gone from strength to strength with the sisters going on to collaborate with a host of award-winning Illustrators, artists and fashion designers including Camille Walala, Brosmind, Supermundane, Will Bryant, Zebu, Okudart, Maser, Orla Kiely and Steve Simpson. Since Izzy Wheels inception, the duo have won 8 national awards and have been named on Forbes 30 under 30. It’s Nice That caught up with Ailhbe to find out a bit more about the work she and her sister are doing for wheelchair design and fashion visibility.
The project is inclusive, so important and full of personality, what was on your mind when you started Izzy Wheels?
Growing up Izzy found it very frustrating and upsetting that there was nothing available for her to personalise her wheelchair. Her chair was the first thing that people noticed about her but it wasn’t a reaction to her bright and bubbly personality. Disability fashion is a massively underserved area of design. Wheelchairs look the same as they did a hundred years ago. My sister has a very positive relationship with her wheelchair and she wanted to express that. She sees it has a symbol of her ability, not her disability.
Wheelchairs are incredible devices which grant people with physical impairments their freedom and they should be celebrated. When someone meets my sister now they always compliment her wheels and it gives her such a confidence boost. The wheel covers are an excellent conversation starter and break down stigmas associated with wheelchairs and disabilities.
What’s also been really exciting was discovering other communities of people online who share this same positive relationship with their mobility equipment. We are contacted by lots of people who felt inspired by us to decorate their walking frames, canes and prosthetic limbs with art. Schools have even started doing art workshops with their students to design wheel art inspired by our wheel designs. It’s an excellent way to teach children, teenagers and adults about inclusivity.
Tell us a bit about the artists who have got involved?
We work with artists from all over the world to transform medical devices into works of art. Over the past 18 months we have collaborated with a host of award-winning illustrators, artists and fashion designers including Camille Walala, Brosmind, Supermundane, Will Bryant, Zebu, Okudart, Maser, Orla Kiely and Steve Simpson. The collaborations with these famous designers shines a very positive light on disability and inclusion. We have hundreds of artists constantly writing to us asking if they can contribute to Izzy Wheels because they believe in what we are doing so much. We launch two designer collections every year and donate a percent of all sales to disability charities. It’s very refreshing to have wheelchair accessories designed by artists instead of hospitals. We give our designers complete creative freedom and it’s fun for them to design because it’s not often you get to design something circular that spins around upside-down.
What has the response been like from wheelchair users?
The most meaningful part of what we do is when our “Spokes People” send us photos of themselves wearing their Izzy Wheels. Each week we have a Spokes Person of the week and we share their photo and story with our community. They speak about how the wheel covers have impacted on their lives and how it changes how people engage with them in a very positive way. It’s very emotional for us and why we love our job.