Interview with: Cinzia Chiarini by Sara Mannocci
Passionate about fashion and fashion style, Cinzia Chiarini decided to found a start-up with a somewhat peculiar objective: make wheelchairs more trendy thanks to interchangeable wheel covers, suitable for any and all occasions.
“Mom, look at that lady on that colorful wheelchair!” I was on the street when a child next to me, of about five or six years old, made this statement about my chair wheels covered by a hearts print cover. I thought: this is our goal! This is the reaction we want to get, encouraging people to approach disability without fear. The child, in fact, did not see my chair as an aid, he only saw me as a woman on a colored chair. Cinzia Chiarini’s words and determination arrive loud and clear from Pontedera (Pisa), with the typical sincerity of a Tuscan. With a lifelong passion for fashion and style, today she is also an entrepreneur thanks to the start-up Vanity Wheel, which started its activity with the production of “colored wheel covers”.
How did you get to this business idea?
I have always lived alongside style and fashion. Before the car accident I worked in the family upholstery in Pontedera, in contact with fabrics and colors. I was about 30 when I lost the use of my legs in 1994. I could not, and still can’t, stand being told that I’m “pinned to a chair”, an expression often used when describing my disability. Promoting “education” began with this way of expressing myself while rejecting the idea that the arrival of a wheelchair meant ceasing to live. After the first inevitable period of bewilderment, I started thinking how to move forward, I needed to change the settings of my life still considering the need to develop education.
I began by saying “take away everything, but not my wheelchair”, making fun of a famous marketing advertisement from that period…
Yes, they were also the years of calendars. I started with photos initially distributed to my network of friends, then I started a collaboration with the Equal Opportunities Commission of the Municipality of Pontedera by carrying out various awareness campaigns. The basic intent has always been only one: communicate to as many people as possible that life does not end even in the face of unexpected events that change its course, you must continue moving forward, choosing to live.
This choice becomes easier if conveyed through beauty.
No doubt. The Vanity Wheel project was born from this idea of beauty also transferred to the wheelchair. A few years ago I made, initially without having a precise thought on possible developments, some drawings of colored wheel covers to be applied to the chairs. The opportunity to realize this idea was born thanks to the friendship with Michela Trentin, entrepreneur, manager in organization and development of companies
like me she is also a great lover of fashion and style. She saw my drawings and told me: this is a done project. We started working on it in practice about two years ago, getting in contact with the Mita fashion school in Scandicci, which collaborates with us through students who make their ideas available. Now we may be able to get started with production. Managing a start-up is not so easy.
“Life does not end, even in the face of unexpected events that change its course”
<Make a fashion wheel > we read it in the description of the initiative: is this the core of the Vanity Wheel project?
“Make a fashion wheel” means dressing the wheelchair, which is part of yourself, not hiding but personalizing and choosing it based on your feelings and mood. After all, these are covers like the ones we usually use for mobile phones. Right now, we have five collections ready, like any fashion line, designed for women, men, boys, special occasions such as weddings. Each cover is coloured and decorated with roses, jewels, famous paintings, graffiti according to the idea of the line. We work with Tuscan companies that produce plastic-type cover material and that print the decorations according to our orders. In addition, these wheel covers have a particular attachment system to the chair that allows you to easily replace one cover with another. Planning an evening out with my friends? I choose the most suitable cover for the event according to my style. This is the core of the project, being yourself through beauty and fashion.
How will production actually work?
Thanks to the Eppela crowdfunding platform, we have already raised about 5 thousand euros which will allow us to start with production. The covers can be ordered through a dedicated website (vanitywheel.com) at a cost of about one hundred euros per pair. We are also implementing collaborations with various artists to create particular designs, and soon we will launch a new line of “accessible accessories”: I am thinking of gloves, backpacks and other fashion accessories designed to facilitate the autonomy of people with disabilities, but above all make them feel beautiful. When you think about disabilities, you need to think outside the box, especially when it comes to accessories.
Article taken from the magazine “SuperAbile INAIL June 2019” – Column “INSUPERABILI”