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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Your life as a special needs parent can be challenging and isolating at time’

A Cork couple discuss their child’s battle with a rare genetic condition and bringing BILLY Footwear to Ireland.

The parents of a 7-year-old, who has FOXG1, have established their own adaptive footwear and clothing brand.

The idea for Keeks stemmed from their experience trying to source such products for Kian, who has a rare genetic condition.

As April and Rob Mullen from Cobh, Co Cork, explained, there are challenges helping Kian, who is non-verbal, non-mobile and tube fed, live to the fullest.

These challenges include sourcing equipment and clothing to the intensive medical assistance he requires.

Rather than seeing those difficulties as a burden, they have embraced it courageously – constantly finding the solutions to overcome.

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This has given them a clear insight on how to adapt and overcome the various bumps in the path along the way.

April explains: “Although Kian’s condition has introduced a whole range of challenges, he never gives up and remains our bright, happy and determined boy.”

“Kian’s condition has meant that, over the years, we have had to source a lot of inclusive products to assist him in everyday life.”

One challenge was to find shoes that Kian could wear day-to-day and would fit over his orthotics or Ankle Foot Orthosis (AFOs).”

Billy Footwear

That challenge to find the right footwear became the next focus, and they took to the internet to find a way around it.

“Luckily, one day, we stumbled across Billy Footwear, which ticked every box for us. We couldn’t believe it – a shoe that was stylish, functional and most importantly, easy to get on.”

“Once we received our first pair of Billy shoes, there was no going back. It may sound silly, but something as simple as finding the right pair of shoes for Kian made our daily life so much easier,” she added.

Billy Footwear was the solution they were seeking, and it gave Kian a way to make his life “just that little bit easier”.

Only available in US 

As all parents know, children grow out of their clothes in a matter of months.

For the Mullens, and many Irish families with loved ones in need of specialist shoes, Billy Footwear has been their salvation.

But again, another challenge was placed in their path – the obstacle that the shoes were only available in the US.

This meant high shipping costs, import duties and long delivery times.

Rob added: “When you have a child with orthotics, sizing a shoe can be difficult. The cost of returns was not feasible.”

“In the past, we have ordered shoes that were the wrong size for Kian. Instead of returning the shoes, we gifted them to some else.

“We continued for the next few years buying Billy’s from the US but always hoping they would eventually be available in Ireland.”

The parents of a child with FOXG1 in Cork brought Billy Footwear to Ireland. Keeks is their own adaptive footwear and clothing brand.

Help parents like themselves 

As the years ticked by, costs mounted, and the couple decided to take the leap and bring Billy Footwear to Ireland.

April said: “We’ve sat down and had countless conversations. We decided to bite the bullet and work with Billy Footwear to bring them to Ireland and help other families like us.”

Their main goal with this venture is to help other parents like themselves – to give them access to what is available.

“Your life as a special needs parent can be challenging and isolating at times. We want to help elevate this in helping parents source a functional, universal and stylish shoe for their child.”

They have launched their own company here in Ireland to make that dream a reality.

Products to assist parents and children with special needs

And the name of the company? Keeks – Kian’s nickname among his loving family.

“In the future, our goal is to make a wider range of products available to help assist parents and children with special needs.”

They are also selling Polly & Andy seamless bamboo socks to our product range which will “go perfectly” with the BILLY shoes. Also, they have a knee-high sock which is “perfect” to go under AFOs/orthotics.

“We have just confirmed the addition of mum2mum bibs and bandanas going from infant up to supersize for adults.”

“We will continue to listen to our customers’ needs and hopefully use our new platform to source more products which are not readily available in Ireland,” Rob added.

Further reading

You can find more information on their website.

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