”If you can’t stand up, stand out!” That’s the motto of fashion-forward Irish startup Izzy Wheels.
The brand creates stylish wheel covers for wheelchairs, transforming a medical device into a piece of fashion and self-expression.
What initially started out as a final year art project has grown into thriving online business.
The company now ship to over 25 countries, have appeared on national and international news sites and count celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Mark Ruffalo among their legions of fans.
We caught up with CEO and Creative Director Ailbhe Keane to find out more about this exciting startup.
Tell us about Izzy Wheels.
”Izzy Wheels was inspired by my younger sister Izzy. She was born with spina bifida and is paralysed from her waist down. Growing up she 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 reflection of her bright and bubbly personality.”
Izzy Keane modelling the Zebu wheels. Photo by Ailbhe Keane.
What is the company mission?
”We are on a mission to break down the stigma around disabilities. A wheelchair user doesn’t see their chair as something negative, they see it as their enabler and their means of freedom. Having decorated wheels opens up a conversation and celebrates a person’s chair. Our message has resonated with audiences around the world.”
What has been your best moment to date?
”We have collaborated with 25 artists, illustrators and fashion designers around the world to create our ‘Roll Models’ collections. Our most recent collaboration was with iconic print designer Orla Kiely. Izzy Wheels has also won 7 national awards.”
What’s been your biggest challenge?
”During the summer a video that we made went viral and was viewed 2 million times in 24 hours and 15 million times in a week. Overnight we started getting more orders in a day than we did in a month. Since then 80% of our sales are to the USA. We had to scale up quickly to keep up with the demand!”
What’s your team structure like?
”We are a creative lead business. I am the CEO and Creative Director. That means I handle the management of the company’s day to day runnings. I also curate all of the upcoming collections and work closely with all of our designers. Izzy is the Brand Ambassador. Her job is engaging with her growing community online. Izzy has become an icon in the disability community since going viral this summer for her positive and bubbly outlook on disability.”
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting their own business?
”Here in Ireland, there are amazing supports for startups and ideas. A few years ago I would have never imagined that I would be running my own business. After finishing college, Enterprise Ireland gave me funding, intense training and office space through their ‘New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Programme’. I learned so much during those 6 months and it allowed me to transform my project into a fully scalable business which could generate revenue and create jobs.”
How do you measure success?
”We measure success with happy customers. We are very close to our community of ‘Spokes People’ who love sending us photos of themselves modelling their Izzy Wheels. Seeing the product that you have put so much time and care into designing bring happiness and pride to users is a very special feeling.”
What’s your ultimate ambition for the brand?
”Going clothes shopping for wheelchair users is an incredibly frustrating task. If you see something that you really like in a shop it’s probably not going to fit you because it hasn’t been designed with a seated person in mind. We are creating a place for wheelchair users where all of their needs, dreams and wants have been considered. We are creating a fashion brand for one of the worlds most underserved communities of people.”
What are the plans for Izzy Wheels going forward?
”We will continue to break down stigmas and celebrate diversity!”