By Jenny Kerr
In August 2016, I attended a summer camp, which was run by the Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Ireland Association. While there, I met a young girl from Galway by the name of Isabel “Izzy” Keane. During one of the camp activities, I noticed the very colourful and incredibly designed spoke guards on the wheels of Isabel’s wheelchair. Having admired them from a distance, I decided to talk to her and find out where she had gotten these beautifully made spoke guards. She told me that all of the ones that she had brought with her to the camp that week were all designed and made by her sister Ailbhe Keane. These spoke guards are part of the web based business idea Ailbhe had created by the name of “Izzy Wheels”, named in honour of her sister Isabel.
Having received the contact details of the company from Isabel, I got in touch with Ailbhe. I arranged to meet with her in Dublin to find out more about how the whole idea for Izzy Wheels came about. I met with Ailbhe in February 2017. During that time, Ailbhe explained why she had created this web-based business. She told me that she moved from Galway to Dublin so that she could study Art and Design at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD). In her last year of college, as part of her Final Year Project, Ailbhe knew exactly what she wanted to do. She also knew who the inspiration behind it was…and so Izzy Wheels was born!
Ailbhe told me that having received her Degree in Visual Communications during her five years at the NCAD, she decided then to develop the idea of Izzy Wheels into a proper business at the beginning of 2016.
“My original plan was to create something stylish for my sister. However, after receiving a lot of attention for my designs and the spoke guards themselves, I decided to make Izzy Wheels into a proper business that would help people with disabilities feel more stylish. As I always say ‘If You Can’t Stand Up…Stand Out’
Having seen the website for myself and learned the background to its existence it seemed to me that Izzy Wheels was a business that had been geared towards providing products for mainly female consumers. Thankfully Ailbhe put my mind at rest and I was delighted to hear that there were other product ideas in the pipeline. Products such as sleeve cuffs, umbrellas and bags which Ailbhe felt would help Izzy Wheels reach out to a wider and more balanced range of customers.
As our conversation continued, Ailbhe talked me through exactly how the spoke guards are made; explaining that material she uses to make them is two millimetres of plastic, which is then laminated. Ailbhe tells me that the graphics are printed onto the plastic. She then explains that this process can take about two weeks depending on whether people want designs from their collections or more personal designs.
Recently Ailbhe showcased some designs at the ‘Funky Fashion Fling’ Fashion Show organised by IWA’s Knockmitten Youth Cafe and held in the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel in Dublin. She is hoping to expand on these in the coming months. She also hopes that the business will expand from its base at Enterprise Ireland in Dublin, to places such as America, having already gained interest from people with disabilities living in the UK.
Lastly, I wanted to find out what advice Ailbhe would give to other people like her who wanted to set up a business of their own. This is what she had to say:
“I would say you’re never too young to start a business. If you find something you like, then it doesn’t really feel like work. Be passionate about what you do. There are plenty of people out there that really want to help”.