by Amy Saffell
For years, women wheelchair users have had a decent share of options when it comes to wheelchair style and design, but primarily just in the frame of their chairs. Popular choices include an array of colors from the wild and eye-popping to the classic and subdued and a host of patterns from sparkly to splattered. Recent years have seen a rise in popularity of colored tires and lighted front wheels, but still there has been one major void in the evolution of wheelchair style: upholstery.
Enter E. Din of Atlanta, GA, the founder of Wheely Nice Covers, a company that designs covers for the backs of wheelchairs, covering up that boring and basic solid color. Din, a journalist by profession and an entrepreneur by passion, tells the story of people watching at an airport and spotting a group of young adult wheelchair users. As she watched them, she began to feel like she was getting to know them. She saw “a back pack with military stickers, a jeweled cell phone, a short, short skirt, all cues to their demeanor and preferences in style. Later, [she] spotted them rolling away from [her] down the concourse, and suddenly [she] couldn't identify even one of them.” Her disappointment quickly spurred her to work.
She felt that every part of a person’s wheelchair should reflect his or her sense of style, personality, and favorite hobbies and recognized that there wasn’t an opportunity for that kind of self-expression, so she created one herself and developed Wheely Nice Covers.
While the company was created two years ago, a year was spent in product development and sample design. The time and attention spent at the beginning of the product’s development is something in which she takes pride and continues that same thoroughness today by paying particular diligence to every detail in every customer’s order. “Everything is custom in a nontraditional traditional manner,” Din says.
The Wheely Nice Cover target audience includes men, women, and children who are fashion and appearance conscious individuals. The company considers their products “couture” for wheelchairs.
Din strives to run a responsible company focused on the humanity of its customers. As a result, the covers are made with the best, most comfortable fabrics available, with price being a significant consideration in the materials used in order to create a high-end, yet affordable product.
Because Wheely Nice Covers are completely custom-made for each individual, they can be designed to fit both manual and power chairs. If a customer has a standard chair back from a familiar company, he or she would simply include their chair make and model type with the order to ensure a perfect fit. With chairs from lesser well-known companies or chairs with custom chair backs, a little measuring, with simple instructions from one of the customer service representatives, is required. A demo of the product is then sent to the customer after the order is placed, either over email or by mailing an actual sample. Once the initial measurement is made for a specific chair, Wheely Nice Covers keeps that measurement on file so that no extra measuring is needed for future orders.
In the realm of design, most customers choose to have a custom cover made in their selection of fabric and design. They often desire to have a cover made to match a particular outfit that they currently own. However, the options are nearly endless. For example, Din says that the company is currently seeking clearance from The University of Alabama to use their school’s logo on a cover for one customer.
Another option is to have a photograph put on a cover, which is popular particularly with proud grandparents. In addition, kids’ designs can be made to have detachable and movable parts for a more playful cover. Pockets also can be created in the cover based on customer needs. Elegant covers can even be created for an impending wedding or special event, and music can even be embedded in the cover.
Although most of Wheely Nice Covers’ business comes from custom designed cover orders, the company also offers select designs based on the season that can be ordered online. The designs are developed by Din—the company’s primary designer—and kids’ cover designer Kris Alexander. Because Wheely Nice Covers strives to operate more like a high end fashion boutique, each of the pre-made styles are only offered for a limited time due to availability of material, cost, and time involved in creating the product.
In addition to the covers, Din has also expanded the company to include creating custom designed outfits and bags for individuals. Because many people with disabilities have challenges in finding clothes that fit them well with fabrics that lay straight as they sit in their chairs, Din creates these outfits to combat these problems, specifically tailoring them to the customer. Many of these outfits are created to accompany matching covers, allowing for one continuous design to be seen from the back.
Din recognizes the growing pains of a start-up company, particularly in a completely new product category, but she has begun to see the company grow. Until now, people haven’t even had the option to consider how to accessorize wheelchair upholstery because such a product hasn’t existed. Din encourages wheelchair users to ask themselves how they can make their chairs more appealing and expects, as more people are exposed to the product and the idea of wheelchair fashion, that there will be a shift in thinking and a new category of customers who frequently seek out this kind of product.
To grow the popularity of the company, Din has named US Paralympic tennis athlete Karin Korb as the company’s national spokesperson. The partnership excites Korb because she runs “Diva Camps” for young wheelchair users across the country, and she can now teach her campers “not only how to embrace their beauty and charm, but introduce them to the world of high fashion.”
When asked where she sees the company going in the future, Din speculates that more wheelchair users will be looking for wheelchair fashion items, which translates into more Wheely Nice Cover customers. She also hopes to have more wheelchair users employed by the company, especially those who are interested in fashion. Din is even willing to consider other people’s design ideas and she just might make them come to life, just as hers did only a few years ago.
For more information on Wheely Nice Covers, please visit their website at www.wheelynicecovers.com.