Nike Inc, the sportswear giant, will launch a hijab designed for Muslim women athletes in spring 2018, making sports more comfortable for them. The company said on Wednesday that it is the first major sports apparel maker to offer a traditional Islamic head scarf designed specifically for competition.
The pull-on hijab, which is marketed under the "Pro Hijab" brand, is designed to allow athletes to observe the traditional Islamic practice of covering the head without compromising performance. The head covering, made up of light fabric, has tiny holes for breathability and the length has also been designed to stop it coming untucked during activity. It will be available in three colours: black, grey and obsidian.
In recent years, the hijab has evolved as a symbol of diversity and has become the most visible symbol of Islamic culture in the United States and Europe. Many Muslim women cover their heads in public with the hijab as a sign of modesty, but some critics see it as a sign of female oppression. Recently on the occasion of Women's March in Washington, the face of a woman wearing a hijab in an American flag pattern was used as its promotional image.
Earlier, small sporting brands such as Capsters and ResportOn have been seen as leading brands of sporting hijabs. Nike says that the hijab was a carefully planned decision to put their trademark 'swoosh' above the left ear to "highlight the hijab's pinnacle performance nature".
According to the company, a number of Muslim athletes visited Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, just outside of Portland, complaining about the difficulties of wearing a hijab while competing. Nike consulted with Muslim women athletes from around the world, including Middle Eastern runners and cyclists, before designing the hijab.
Zahra Lari, the United Arab Emirates athlete, has modeled the Nike hijab and posted a photo of herself wearing Nike sportswear to mark International Women's Day. "Can't believe this is finally here!!" she wrote. Lari is the first ever figure skater who competed internationally. She hopes to represent the UAE in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics.
The launch was also highly appreciated on social media with people posting their views through Twitter and other online platforms.
But at the same time, there were some users who thought that the company was not doing anything particularly groundbreaking.
Amna Al Haddad, a Nike sponsored weightlifter from the United Arab Emirates who consulted on "Pro Hijab" said the annual net sales of Nike is in the billions, and its reach in popular culture, can do more to bring Muslim athletes into the fold.
"(It will) encourage a whole new generation to pursue sports without feeling there is a limitation because of modesty or dress-code," Haddad told Reuters.