Irish sisters Ailbhe and Izzy Keane, the founders of Izzy Wheels, have teamed up with Hello Kitty in a "dream" collaboration to create new wheelchair wheel covers for adults and children.
Hello Kitty x Izzy Wheels features Sanrio's most iconic character, which first appeared in 1974 and quickly became a staple of Japanese popular culture, and there are two capsule collections to choose from – Sweetheart and Retro Food, each celebrating Hello Kitty's adorable features.
The Sweetheart collection showcases the classic Hello Kitty theme with her cute red bow. The Retro Food Collection has reimagined everyday treats into a world of Hello Kitty rainbow-themed foods in a comic book style. All of the prints were created with care and love by Ailbhe, the brand's creative director, using the Hello Kitty style archives.
"As a girl, I was completely and utterly obsessed with Hello Kitty. I was that little kid with a Hello Kitty school bag, lunchbox, pencil case, pencils, clothes, and teddies," Ailbhe tells Creative Boom. "If anyone was going abroad I would literally beg them to bring me back some Hello Kitty merch because it was so hard to get in Ireland. I used to spend my days at school drawing Hello Kitty all over my notebooks instead of working. I always found her bold black lines, bright playful colours and distinctive shapes so satisfying to draw."
In fact, Ailbhe's love of Hello Kitty graphics and branding was what inspired her to become a graphic designer in the first place. "I never could have dreamed that I'd have the opportunity to work with my favourite brand of all time! Fashion and playfulness have always been at the heart of we do and we're thrilled to work with such a fun brand that played such a massive role in my childhood."
To market the new collections, Ailbhe and Izzy took part in a colourful photoshoot, which included giant pop art props, styled and art directed by Ailbhe and photographed by one of Ireland's leading art and fashion photographers, Sarah Doyle.
Initially a college project, the idea for Izzy Wheels was inspired by Izzy who was born with Spina Bifida and is paralysed from her waist down. Ailbhe saw that her sister's chair was the first thing people noticed about her, but it wasn't a reflection of her bright and bubbly personality. Ailbhe began designing a range of stylish wheel covers that expressed wheelchair users individuality and personality, transforming a medical device into a piece of fashion and self-expression. Their tagline is 'If you can't stand up, stand out!'.
Since then, the sisters have become known for their exuberant style, and have collaborated with over 80 famous artists and brands from around the world to transform wheelchairs into works of art. Izzy adds: "From a personal perspective, as a wheelchair user, it's so wonderful that Izzy Wheels is collaborating with such a globally loved brand like Hello Kitty because when kids see a character which they are so familiar with associated with a medical device like a wheelchair it automatically makes the chair less scary and cooler to them. For older fans of Hello Kitty who use wheelchairs this collaboration will be very special for them too because they will be able to re-emphasise the playful and super stylish side of wheelchairs."
The Hello Kitty partnership plays an important part in Izzy Wheels' brand mission: "to make the fashion and design world more inclusive" and highlights the fact that wheelchairs can be so much more than a medical device, they can be a piece of artistic self-expression.
"I feel the art world has become more inclusive in terms of disability representation," says Ailbhe. "I often see wheelchair users or people with mobility aids in group illustrations. Then again, that could be down to the art accounts that I follow. But it is our responsibility as designers to be more inclusive in the visual representations that we put out into the world so we have to be the change."
The Hello Kitty X Izzy Wheels Sweetheart and Retro Food collections are available now from www.izzywheels.com. Priced at €139.