How Nike’s Pro Hijab is Changing the way we Engage in Sports and Dialogue

January 3, 2021

I first heard about Nike’s Pro Hijab in the spring of 2017. I was called in for an audition and was unaware of which product I would be auditioning for. As an actress, you grow accustomed to auditioning for projects that sometimes have their identities concealed. I remember I was told I was on avail, which means being close to booking a job.

I was enthused because I knew the audition was for a sports product. But more than anything, my excitement stemmed from being asked to wear a hijab for the audition. Wear a hijab for a sports-related product? I thought. Score! If I could be a representative for a product that celebrated diversity in the world of sports, well, I’d feel like it was a win-win on many levels. 

Unfortunate for me, I did not land the gig. Yet not getting it didn’t irk me as there was consolation in knowing that a commercial was being produced that would finally celebrate diversity in sports. When I saw the commercial, I was thrilled!

Some may take it as “just” a commercial but I saw it as progress and not just for me, but for the world over. I mean Nike, NIKE, had created a product that acknowledged so many women and customs which have been historically marginalized or just outright ignored by both the sports and marketing world alike. But what did it all really mean?

On March 7, 2017,  Nike announced the launch of a hijab that would be lightweight and breathable for Muslim athletes. Nike stated that athletes like Amna Al Haddad, figure skater Zahra Lari, and boxer Zeina Nassar helped design the product. These women were asked to test the performance of the product and upon receiving their feedback, adjustments were made. 

Athletes like Shirin Gerami told The Bleacher Report that the sports hijab has been around for “decades.” Events like the Olympics and other traditional Western sporting events do not have a plethora of Muslim athletes wearing hijabs, whereas in predominantly Muslim countries, wearing a hijab does not hinder one from playing sports. It’s normal.

Cindy van den Bremen was the first designer to create a hijab that was designed for performance and international use, according to The Bleacher Report. She began designing hijabis back in 1999,  inspired by an incident of a Muslim girl being kicked out from her gym class for wearing a hijab. In 2001, van den Bremen started Capstersin, a company that now sells 8 different hijabs to 15 countries around the world.

Another company, Friniggi Sportswear, was also selling sportswear but had to stop because of the costs associated with global scalability that they couldn’t keep up with. So the takeaway? Well, we can certainly conclude Nike isn’t a pioneer in creating a hijab for sports performance. So why then has it amassed fanfare for its creation?

What’s unique about Nike is that it is the largest and most iconic company to provide a sports hijab on an international scale and market it unabashedly, not concerning itself to the current Trumpesque era of Islamophobic politicals and marketing.

Nike is also fostering dialogue around Muslim culture with its Pro Hijab commercials and campaigns. Not all the athletes in the commercial are wearing a hijab,  just like not all Muslim women wear hijabs. Nike shows the diversity of the culture, of women, of sports(wo)manship, putting its marketing dollars into the mantra that “Sport is for everyone.”

The @nike Pro Hjiab officially launched today! Get the exclusive scoop from @ibtihajmuhammad & Co. on now (LINK IN BIO) - including who has worn it so far (from @kinglimaa to @zahralari), where to get it, and how #nikeprohijab changes the sporting landscape.⚡️ تمَّ إطلاق حملة نايكي @nike المناصرة للحجاب بشكل رسمي اليوم. موقع يستقصي الشخصيات التي ارتدت هذه الأحجبة حتى الآن (من حليمة آدن @kinglimaa إلى زهرة لاري @zahralari)، ويرشدك إلى منافذ بيعها، كما يستعرض معكِ كيف تسهم هذه الحملة في تغيير المشهد الرياضي على مستوى الشرق الأوسط.

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 The hijabs, designed in sizes from XS-L became available December 1st, 2017 in black and obsidian colors on and in certain stores across Europe, North Africa, The Middle East, and North America. White and gray hijabs will be released this month (January 2018) online and in certain stores across 20 countries.

On their site, Nike pledges that “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.”

Perhaps taking inspiration from their own tagline, Nike finally just did it and I for one couldn’t be more excited. I’m looking forward to seeing more culturally sensitive sportswear to come from Nike and how/if they inspire other global sports brands to follow suit.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if a sportswear conglomerate is the one to shift the dialogue from xenophobia to cultural inclusiveness? One can hope. I don’t know if I can yet totally envision a world and industry in which my auditions are for products celebrating diversity, that these products would not be one-offs. Rather, they would be the norm. At least Nike gives me hope and makes such a reality within reach.


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