Nike plans to sell a performance hijab for Muslim women athletes, according to a press release obtained by Retail Dive.
Dubbed the "Nike Pro Hijab,” the head scarf is made from dark, breathable but opaque polyester fabric and was designed in consultation with Muslim athletes who have struggled to maintain traditional garb while competing or working out. For example, female weightlifter United Arab Emirates Amna Al Haddad recounted how the best hijab she could find previously was too heavy, shifted around as she moved, had no breathability and disrupted her focus. She had only one competition-worthy covering, and had to hand wash it every night during competitions.
The hijab, which will be part of the company’s spring 2018 collection and was a year in the making, is already being used by several athletes, including Haddad and United Arab Emirates figure skater Zahra Lari.
Nike is not the first brand to work to appeal to Muslim women — who have particular restrictions when it comes to traditional garb but are nevertheless keen on style and, in the case of athletes, performance — but it may be the largest.
Retailers like Spain’s Mango and DKNY are increasingly catering to fashionable Muslim girls and women, with collections released ahead of the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims in the U.S. tend to be young, educated, and upwardly mobile — a.k.a. a retailer’s dream.
As the U.S.’s Muslim population has grown — Islam is destined to become America’s number two religion by 2050 — retailers and designers are increasingly paying attention to this demographic. That makes Muslim women and girls a growing niche. The styles favored by many observant women can have a spillover effect as well. Modest swimwear, like that designed by observant Orthodox Jewish women, is catching on among some women who aren’t interested in the garb for religious reasons, but, rather, just prefer the look or the opportunity to cover up.
When it comes to sports, the struggle is complicated because women and girls often find it difficult to remain comfortable while wearing apparel that is appropriate for their religion. The participation rate of Muslim girls in sports is about half that of their peers, according to the Kickstarter page for ASIYA, an athletic brand for Muslim women. “One of the barriers to participation is the clothing worn for religious and cultural reasons,” the brand says. “We aim to change that.”
The fact that Nike is getting into this game demonstrates how powerful a niche this could be, something that flies in the face of a current political climate in the U.S. that is often marked by fear of Muslims and calls for them to “assimilate.” News of the plans for the Pro Hijab follow a powerful (and controversial) ad that went viral in the Arab World, showing some women wearing the piece as they run, ice skate and participate in other sports.
In fact, the company took pains to note that it has many efforts to appeal to Muslim athletes, saying it's part and parcel of its founding mission " to serve athletes, with the signature addendum: If you have a body, you’re an athlete." The brand has opened stores in the Middle East stores, with collections inspired by Nike’s roster of elite female athletes, women’s races, Nike Run Clubs and the NTC App in Arabic.
"I was thrilled and a bit emotional to see Nike prototyping a Hijab," figure skater Lari said in a statement quoted by several news outlets. "I've tried so many different hijabs for performance, and... so few of them actually work for me. But once I put it on and took it for a spin on the ice, I was blown away by the fit and the light weight.”