Washington:The sportswear giant on Tuesday announced a spring 2018 launch for the Nike Pro Hijab, the company’s first foray into high-performance headgear for Muslim women athletes.
“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,” Nike said in a statement.
Although women have been wearing hijabs in competition for years, Global Nike spokeswoman Megan Saalfeld told Al Arabiya English that her company first thought to produce their own after hearing from Emirati Olympic weightlifter Amna Al Haddad, who told of having to hand wash her only suitable hijab in the sink every night during competitions.
“From there, we worked with Amna and a variety of other athletes to see what they needed and wanted in a performance hijab,” Saalfeld said. “What we heard was that women were looking for a lightweight and breathable solution that would stay in place without concern of shifting.”
Nike’s hijab will be made from lightweight polyester mesh material and will have an elongated back to help keep the neck covered during athletic activity.
Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari has been testing prototypes of the product for more than a year and is part of Nike’s ad campaign for the hijab. She said in a statement: “I’ve tried so many different hijabs for performance, and with how fast I spin on the ice and in training, so few of them actually work for me. But once I put [the Nike hijab] on and took it for a spin on the ice, I was blown away by the fit and the light weight.”
Nike+ Run Club Coach Manal Rostom, an Egyptian woman who also runs the ‘Surviving Hijab’ Facebook group, told Al Arabiya English: “For a brand like Nike to come out and say that these people exist and are inclusive of hijabis is a big deal. It not just about making a product available for Muslim and Arab women but it is also giving a chance to those women who are putting off the idea of wearing the veil completely in order to compete.”
That, Saalfeld said, was one of Nike’s primary goals in getting into the hijab business.
“We recognize that around the world, there are barriers for many people to access sport, and some of these barriers are unique to women and girls,” Saalfeld said. “We want to help break down these barriers and encourage and enable more women to be pioneers in sport.”
Of course, it wasn’t lost on some people that the company’s ubiquitous swoosh is featured prominently on the hijab.
Nike’s announcement Tuesday came some seven months after fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab
Muhammad became a lightning rod for attention at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro because of her religion and the headscarf she wore under her fencing mask.
The 30-year-old Muslim was outspoken about women’s rights and religious freedom.
“I have a very short window as an athlete,” she told reporters. “And I’m going to try to take advantage.”
When her U.S. teammates voted on a flagbearer at the Rio Games, she finished a close second to swimmer Michael Phelps.