They say people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.
For renowned Canadian fashion designer Izzy Camilleri, Barbara Turnbull covers them all.
For three decades Camilleri had made a name for herself dressing A-listers like Angelina Jolie, Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Lopez. Her savvy, sophisticated styles from leather, to evening wear, to custom corsets graced the covers of the hottest magazines like Vogue and InStyle.
But when Turnbull – a well-known journalist and wheelchair user since a tragic shooting left her quadriplegic in 1983 – approached her to design stylish, comfortable clothes to fit her body through the seasons, Camilleri realized her real calling was to help bring fashion to a completely underserved community.
“I had no idea that someone in a chair had any different clothing needs than you or I,” says the designer. “The world was my market because nobody had ever done this before.”
In 2004 Camilleri launched IZ Adaptive – a boutique exclusively for people who use wheelchairs.
“Everything we do, the starting point is from a seated frame. So what happens when you’re sitting? What happens to the clothes? Where are they bunching? Where are they digging in? Where are they riding down in the back?” Camilleri explains. “We literally had to recreate the patterns to accommodate a seated frame.”
Her custom creations have changed lives.
Russel Winkelaar has been in a wheelchair since a car accident two weeks before his fourth birthday. Until he met Camilleri, he lacked confidence in his appearance because he had trouble finding pants that fit properly.
“I was anywhere between large boys and smallest men’s,” he says.
One day he wheeled past Camilleri’s Toronto boutique.
“I saw these gleaming shining white wheelchairs in the window. And I just quit what I was doing that moment and came right in.”
Layla Guse Salah has spastic cerebral palsy. She says clothing stores were always daunting places full of pieces out of reach.
“I’m in my 20s. I want to look fashionable, I want to look good. I want to be confident,” she says.
Salah says she carries herself differently now and she is more confident in her appearance. She is so grateful to Camilleri that she works for her doing customer service.
“Being able to have access to funky fashionable functional clothing gives me a lot of dignity and dignity that I didn’t realize I was missing.”
Camilleri’s pieces are now part of an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, and her success in a new niche has not gone unnoticed in the mainstream fashion world.
Canadian television personality and fashion critic Jeanne Beker calls her “a truly brilliant technician” who understands her craft better than most.
“Izzy has championed this cause in a wonderful way,” says Beker.
Beker says until IZ Adaptive was born, the so-called “democratization of fashion” meant making it more accessible to plus-sized people, those with different body types, or those who normally can’t afford it.
“She’s really serviced a whole community of people that otherwise I don’t know what they’d do.”
For putting fashion and confidence within reach of the disabled, Izzy Camilleri is this week’s Everyday Hero.
There are many people trying to make a difference who rarely receive the media attention they deserve. Everyday Hero is our attempt to provide better balance in our newscast. We profile Canadians who don’t go looking for attention, but deserve it. People who through their ideas, effort and dedication are making a difference in the lives of other people.
If you know of an Everyday Hero whose story we should tell, share the information with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
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