In 2009, Izzy Camilleri made a major shift in her business that likely puzzled her peers in the fashion world. But Izzy knew that she was doing something important.
One of Canada’s leading innovative and celebrated fashion designers, Izzy has designed award-winning clothing for national and international clients for over 33 years. She has worked with a diverse mix of celebrity clients including David Bowie, Angelina Jolie, Daniel Radcliffe, Meryl Streep and Gord Downie.
But when Izzy met Toronto Star journalist Barbara Turnbull in 2004, she was inspired to serve an entirely different clientele. Barbara, who died in 2015, had a high-level spinal cord injury and used a wheelchair. She was a valued member of the Spinal Cord Injury Ontario community, and an advocate and successful fundraiser for spinal cord research. At the time, Barbara was looking for a designer to create a custom shearling cape and was referred to Izzy because of her experience in working with leather. This design commission unlocked a new world of knowledge and opportunity for Izzy.
Including people with disabilities in the process and the team
“Working with Barbara opened my eyes to the clothing challenges and limited options for people who use wheelchairs,” explains Izzy. “I started to address those challenges and find solutions and, as time went on, started kicking the tires around adaptive clothing. The more I got into it, I came to understand the research and knowledge required. Barbara helped by connecting me with a small group of wheelchair users whom I could ask questions and work with as a focus group.”
By 2009, Izzy’s pioneering line of stylish, well-fitting, comfortable clothes for people living with physical disabilities, IZ Adaptive, was born. Her designs accommodated the day-to-day physical realities of customers, such as jeans cut to prevent bunching and discomfort and coats made with ease-of-dress in mind. From 2009 to 2016, IZ Adaptive gained global customers, sold products online, introduced menswear, and did season after season of collections.
Along the way, Izzy hired a customer care representative through Spinal Cord Injury Ontario’s Employment Services. Izzy and her team felt it was essential to have a wheelchair user helping customers and understanding their needs, based on personal experience. She has since hired a finance manager through Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, continuing her commitment to inclusion and to having a diverse group of employees who can learn from and help each other.
Growth of a category, more clothing options for people with disabilities
In 2016, IZ Adaptive went on hiatus to restructure, scale and expand, returning in September 2018 with the launch of a new line. Today, a number of well-known brands have followed Izzy’s lead with adaptive clothing lines: a positive sign that the importance of this category is now being recognized.
“In the fashion world, there’s so much available; I don’t need to be yet another person creating more stuff,” says Izzy. “With IZ Adaptive, we can help people; improving lives by giving them options. We’ll continue to expand our line, get into different categories and keep on growing. It’s our mission to provide timeless, adaptive clothing to as many people as possible, so that they can live in comfort, style, dignity and empowerment.”
Do you want to learn more about Izzy’s adaptive clothing line? Visit the IZ Adaptive website at izadaptive.com.
Are you an employer looking to fill a vacancy or someone with a spinal cord injury or other disability looking for a job? Learn more about our Employment Services and contact us at [email protected] .
Image: Designer Izzy Camilleri (left) with model/client Joanne Smith. Photo courtesy of izadaptive.com