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'Positivity is a big part of what we do': The Irish sisters behind wheelchair fashion brand Izzy Wheels

Ailbhe and Izzy Keane talk about inspiration, in association with Microsoft Surface.

Izzy and Ailbhe Keane of Izzy Wheels.
Izzy and Ailbhe Keane of Izzy Wheels.
Image: Izzy Wheels

“I FEEL SO LUCKY. Sometimes I can’t believe it. I think back to when this was a college project and it was just me in my room drawing…. I couldn’t imagine it would grow into what it did.”

When Ailbhe Keane designed wheelchair covers for her final project in The National College of Art and Design in 2016, she had no concept of where the idea would take her. 

The inspiration for the covers came from her sister Izzy, who was born with Spina Bifida and is paralysed from the waist down. 

“Izzy has always had a really positive view of her wheelchair and loved her wheelchair, but she didn’t feel like the appearance of it reflected how she felt about it,” says Ailbhe.

“So when I was in my final year in college, I created a range of colourful new covers that matched my sister’s style and she absolutely loved them. Whenever she put the covers on, it just gave her a huge confidence boost. It changed how people interacted with her because they’d immediately compliment her wheels.”

Watch Izzy and Ailbhe’s story below:

Source: Microsoft Ireland/YouTube

Izzy and Ailbhe – who are sharing their story as part of the Beneath the Surface campaign for Microsoft Surface – started to share photos of their designs online. The response was outstanding.

“We continued making more designs. It kind of went viral online. Like very viral – a video that we made got three million views in a day and 18 million views in a week. So our project became a brand very quickly. Then in 2017, things exploded and we’ve kind of just been working and building ever since then.” 

It very much started as a college project – I never thought it was going to grow into what it is at all.

In the last four years, Izzy Wheels has been featured international publications including Vogue, Elle and Cosmopolitan, and has worked with major brands like Barbie and Hello Kitty in groundbreaking projects. 

Screenshot 2021-06-25 at 16.26.12 Izzy Wheels' collaboration with Hello Kitty. Source: Izzy Wheels

“We made a wheelchair cover for a new Barbie who uses a wheelchair,” says Ailbhe. “The design was so cool, because Izzy never had a toy that represented her growing up. For kids to have a toy that represents someone with a disability, it just normalises it from a young age and that’s really, really important. It means that you grow up with a wheelchair or a mobility device not being anything intimidating. It’s actually really cool.”

From sketching designs in her bedroom to being Creative Director of the brand, Ailbhe says that creativity and colour have stayed at the heart of Izzy Wheels.

“It was always my dream to be able to design stuff every day. That’s something that I just find very fulfilling. That’s why I went to art college – it was my dream to have a job that involves all of that. I never thought I’d be able to do it in the way that I am, that I’d have my own company, that I’d have full creative control over our business.

Screenshot 2021-06-25 at 16.26.35 Izzy Keane Source: Izzy Wheels

“In terms of the designs themselves, they’re very much inspired by the clothes that we wear and our love of colour and positivity. That’s always been something we’ve been really drawn to. It’s become such a big part of our brand.”

With Ailbhe in Dublin and Izzy in Galway, technology plays a huge part in how the two sisters work and run the business, which is based solely online and sells to 50 countries worldwide. It allows them to instantly communicate with customers and artists, to share their designs and behind-the-scenes pictures on social media and to work with each other seamlessly even though they are on opposite sides of the country. 

“There’s so much more technology now that I didn’t have back then,” says Ailbhe.

“We both run the business together, so we need to make sure that we can Skype, be online and access shared files. We can actually work together without being actually physically together. Without that kind of stuff and the products we use from Microsoft, it wouldn’t have been possible.”

The brand’s motto is “if you can’t stand up, stand out”, and it’s safe to say that Izzy Wheels certainly has.

Beneath the Surface of Irish change makers and innovators who make great things happen is the most versatile range of devices, allowing them to use their skill and ambition to create a more colourful world. Turn your inspiration into reality with Microsoft Surface for Business. Learn more about Beneath the Surface here.

Sponsored by:

Microsoft

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