News & Runway

Nike Could Have Made a Sportswear Hijab 15 Years Ago, But Chose Not To

In the spring of 2018, Nike will release the Pro Hijab.

Image: Nike

In the spring of 2018, Nike will release the Pro Hijab, a single-layer, one-size-fits-all head covering done in Nike Pro mesh (known for its breathability). In so doing, Nike will become the first mainstream activewear brand to (somewhat) address the needs of Muslim female athletes. The company reportedly spent over a year developing the sports-ready head covering.

“The Nike Pro Hijab was designed as a direct result of our athletes telling us they needed this product to perform better, and we hope that it will help athletes around the world do just that,” global Nike spokeswoman Megan Saalfeld told Al Arabiya English. “From there, we worked with… a variety of other athletes to see what they needed and wanted in a performance hijab. What we heard was that women were looking for a lightweight and breathable solution that would stay in place without concern of shifting.”

Cognizant of the fact that hijab styles vary from country to country, Nike test-drove its prototype on athletes from all over the Muslim world. “As each country has its own particular hijab style, the ideal design would need to accommodate variances,” the brand wrote in its official press release.

“By providing Muslim athletes with the most groundbreaking 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: Fewer than one in seven girls participate in locally recommended sport activities for 60 minutes or more,” Nike added.

Furthering this message of inclusion, Nike released a 71-second spot, filmed in Dubai, showing young, hijab-clad Middle Eastern women boxing, swimming, skateboarding and the like, unfazed by others’ scrutiny. “What will they say about you?” questions the female narrator. “Maybe they’ll say you exceeded all expectations.”

Unsurprisingly, both the ad and the Pro Hijab itself have met with loads of positive press. However, some longtime occupants of the Muslim sportswear sector consider Nike’s efforts calculated and long overdue. Glossy reports that Cindy van den Bremen, co-founder of Capsters — maker of the first sports hijab — attempted to sell Nike on the concept in the early 2000s…and got rejected. “[My business partner Karin Mastenbroek and I] have been knocking on doors for the past 17 years, but it was too early,” can den Bremen told the site. According to van den Bremen, Nike’s then-reaction to her sports hijab pitch was: “Nice idea, but do it yourself.” (Which van den Bremen did, founding Capsters in 2001.)

Mastenbroek, meanwhile, is frustrated by Nike’s seemingly calculated interest in female Muslim consumers. (According to a recent report by Thomson Reuters, the rapidly growing Muslim population now accounts for 11 percent of all spending on apparel — in other words, $243 billion per year.) “We’ve wanted the sports hijab to become big for years now — that’s always been our dream — so, on the one hand, we’re very excited that a large sports brand is acknowledging the needs of these Muslim women,” Mastenbroek affirmed. Still, she’s ambivalent: “We’ve been putting all of our energy and effort into this and aren’t being acknowledged [for it]. [Nike] could have done all of this fifteen years ago.”

Of course, it’s no secret that multinational corporations like Nike are, by nature, dollars- and image-conscious. That said, Nike clearly did its homework. Plus, as Mastenbroek acknowledges, the company’s marketing and distribution power will be welcome assets to the Muslim sportswear team. At the end of the day, progress is progress.

[ via Glossy ]