Sisters keep the wheel turning with stylish wheelchair covers

Sisters Ailbhe and Izzy made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2018 for their business which manufactures and produces designer wheelchair covers. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/@IZZYWHEELS)
Sisters Ailbhe and Izzy made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2018 for their business which manufactures and produces designer wheelchair covers. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/@IZZYWHEELS)

Some of the fondest memories Irish sisters Izzy and Ailbhe Keane have are of the times they spent playing dress up as kids. 

For fashion-lover Izzy (23), who was born with spina bifida and is wheelchair-bound, this wasn’t just about trying on different outfits and accessorising away – it was also about glamming up her wheelchair for birthdays and special holidays.

She and Ailbhe (27) got really good at it over the years – so good, in fact, they’ve turned their hobby into a business.

While growing up, Izzy Keane spent time glamming u
While growing up, Izzy Keane spent time glamming up her wheelchair with her sister. Little did they know, it would turn into a successful business venture. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/@IZZYWHEELS)

Izzy Wheels started in 2016 and produces bright, stylish wheel covers so other wheelchair users can express themselves and unleash their inner creative.

The idea developed a few years ago when Ailbhe was attending The National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Ireland. 

As part of her final project, she decided to make the wheel covers which were also dedicated to her sister Izzy, who suffers from a “split spine” which has left her paralysed from the waist down. 

"As soon as Izzy put on her wheel covers, it immediately changed how people interacted with her," Ailbhe says. “The covers act as an icebreaker and nearly everyone she meets greets her with, 'Oh, wow, I love your wheels!'”

Ailbhe received top honours for her work and her designs soon went viral, with artists around the world offering to do more eye-catching designs for the sisters’ passion project. 

One of the unique wheel cover designs by Izzy Whee
One of the unique wheel cover designs by Izzy Wheels. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/@IZZYWHEELS)

“These wheels immediately turn the wheelchair from a medical device into a friendly object," Ailbhe says.

Izzy Wheels – which has the motto “if you can’t stand up, stand out” – features pops of colour and beautiful designs on the covers to reflect the wheelchair owner’s character.

The Dublin-based business now manufactures and ships stylish wheel covers globally. The sisters have also collaborated on designer collections with Barbie-makers Mattel and more recently Hello Kitty, with a percentage of the sales going to Irish disability charities.

Izzy Wheels collaborated with Japanese brand Hello Kitty on a limited edition collection of wheel covers. A dream for Ailbhe (right), whose love for the cute character made her want to study graphic design. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/@IZZYWHEELS)
Izzy Wheels collaborated with Japanese brand Hello Kitty on a limited edition collection of wheel covers. A dream for Ailbhe (right), whose love for the cute character made her want to study graphic design. (PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/@IZZYWHEELS)

For the sisters, success in the business is about removing the sadness from disabilities and injecting the fun.

“The sooner we can educate kids about disabilities, the more normal and less intimidating it becomes,” Ailbhe says. 

SOURCES: PAPERMAG.COM, CBSNEWS.COM, INSTAGRAM.COM/IZZYWHEELS

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