Izzy Wheels has a simple mission, which is to “transform wheelchairs into a piece of fashion and self-expression” for its users by offering stylistic spoke covers.
The brand offers a variety of designs, and sells the waterproof covers — available in three sizes — from its online store for 139 euros. About 80 percent of the company’s sales are to the U.S. Izzy Wheels also collaborates with artists and illustrators, and offers about 40 different designs.
Some notable artists that have worked with the brand include Maser, Steve Simpson and Paula McGloin as well as Fuchsia MacAree, Chris Judge and Marylou Faure, among others. Last fall, the brand collaborated with fashion designer Orla Kiely.
Izzy Wheels was founded in 2015 by Ailbhe Keane, 25, as a class project while she as at the National College of Art and Design. Keane now serves as creative director of Izzy Wheels, which is named after her sister Izzy Keane, 21, who is the brand ambassador. Ailbhe Keane said her sister — who was born with spina bifida — is the inspiration behind the brand and also epitomizes the company’s tag line: “If you can’t stand up, stand out.”
Ailbhe Keane describes her passion for art and design as “central” to her work, and told WWD that chair wheels “are really like a blank canvas for art.” And with her sister’s wheelchair, Keane sees it as something more than “what Izzy uses to get around.”
“It’s a symbol not of her disability but of her ability,” Keane added.
It was Keane’s perspective and design point of view that led Izzy Wheels to capture the attention of Accenture, which awarded the brand its “Leaders of Tomorrow” honor. “The Accenture ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’ program is designed to nurture and develop entrepreneurial individuals and innovative ideas that may positively impact some of the challenges facing Ireland today,” an Accenture spokesperson explained. “Now in its 11th year, ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’ has helped hundreds of budding student entrepreneurs build their ideas or start-ups into substantial businesses, many of which have gone on to be hugely successful, including Izzy Wheels , Gasgon Medical  and Groopeze .”
Accenture noted that applicants for the program numbered 30 during the first year, and last year totaled 240. The company also said that in 2017, 50 percent of the applicants were women, which compares to 10 percent three years ago.
Ideas from business owners and students are vetted by a community of business leaders, investors and academics. And a panel of judges selects the “winning idea,” which are then connected “to a wide range of influential global business leaders, as well as program alumni, who provide their expertise and mentorship in developing viable business plans,” Accenture said.
An Accenture spokesperson said Ailbhe Keane pitched her idea and the brand tag line, which “left a lasting impression.”
“Ultimately, we selected Izzy Wheels as our 2017 winner because they have a great product, which had already been successfully tested on the market and started selling,” the company said. “Besides being just generally cool and innovative, their business and product has real potential and is scalable. Additionally, as a women-led business, they are excellent ambassadors for female entrepreneurs and for the start-up community as a whole.”
During a meeting with WWD editors, the Keane sisters showed their look book, which touted wheel covers featuring bright colors and bold patterns. Izzy Keane said the price point and variety of wheelchair covers is aimed to help consumers build their own fashion collection.
“The idea is that you have different wheel covers as you would have different outfits to wear,” Izzy Keane said adding that the covers also reflect “the positive relationship that users have with their wheelchairs.”
From here, Izzy Keane said maybe there are other products that can be developed. “With manual wheelchairs, users’ cuffs quickly get dirty from pushing the wheels — so maybe there’s a cuff or sleeve [cover] that could protect clothes — and be stylized, too,” Izzy Keane said.
For more business news from WWD, see: