08 March 2017

Just in time for the International Women's Day, sportswear brand Nike has announced the new performance Nike Pro Hijab, made from stretchy and breathable polyester fabric, designed to support Muslim female athletes, and to be officially released in 2018.

The news comes weeks after the viral Nike online commercial called What Will They Say About You?, released in the Middle East, featuring successful female professionals from different parts of the Arab world fencing, boxing and ice-skating. The video became viral, recording 400,000 views on YouTube within 48 hours of the publication, challenging the stereotypes about women’s role in society in the Middle Eastern region.

Nike Pro Hijab is made from stretchy and breathable polyester fabric. © Nike

Sara al-Zawqari, a spokeswoman for the International Red Cross in Iraq, expressed her support for the clip, saying it becomes an empowerment tool rather than just a product.

Functional solution

According to the US brand, the development of the new head cover, targeted specifically towards Muslim female athletes, started following the complaints of some Muslim athletes, who had the wear a traditional head scarf during competitions. Over the past few years, meetings held at the company's headquarters in Oregon explored performance problems associated with wearing a traditional hijab during competition. For example, Amna Al Haddad a female weightlifter from the United Arab Emirates, recounted how the garment’s weight, the potential for it to shift during action and its lack of breathability disrupted her focus. She also detailed her extreme difficulty finding performance hijabs; Amna had only one competition-worthy covering, so she had to hand wash it every night during competitions.

The final product will be available in the company's Spring 2018 season product range. © Nike

The design process took over a year, and the final product, called the Nike Pro Hijab, made in dark, neutral colours, will be available in the company's Spring 2018 season product range. The final, pull-on design is constructed from durable single-layer Nike Pro power mesh-like lightweight sport-ready polyester fabric that wicks moisture, for increased thermal regulation and comfort.

It is designed to provide breathability whilst maintaining an opaque quality, a requirement for hijab, which should cover the hair and neck. The hijab also has an elastic binding that lets the athlete adjust the hijab to her head and her activity. The company also made the back of the hijab longer so that it won’t become untucked during exercise or performance. Fluff threads were used at the neck to eliminate the rubbing and irritation that can occur when an athlete sweats.

Fitting and lightweight

These new garments were again wear tested by elite Nike athletes, like the Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari and Nike+ Run Club Coach Manal Rostom. Everyday athletes from around the Middle East, including runners and cyclists, also assessed the hijabs. Yesterday, on Instagram, Zahra Lari said: “Can't believe this is finally here! I'm super excited to announce the Nike Pro hijab! So proud to be part of this incredible journey.”

By providing Muslim athletes with the most ground-breaking products, like the Nike Pro Hijab, Nike aims to inspire even more women and girls. © Nike

According to Zahra Lari, who was involved in the prototyping process and is already wearing the hijab on the ice, she was impressed by the fit and the light weight of the hijab, compared to other head covers for performance that she tried before.

Inspiring women

“By providing Muslim athletes with the most ground-breaking products, like the Nike Pro Hijab, Nike aims to serve today’s pioneers, as well as inspire even more women and girls in the region who still face barriers and limited access to sport,” the statement from Nike read.

Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari is already wearing the hijab on the ice. © Nike

“The Nike Pro Hijab may have been more than a year in the making, but its impetus can be traced much further back, to an ongoing cultural shift that has seen more women than ever embracing sport. This movement first permeated international consciousness in 2012, when a hijabi runner took the global stage in London.”

In summer 2016, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, of New York, became the first Muslim American woman who competed for the US wearing a hijab at the Olympics, earning a bronze medal at the Rio Games.

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