When Vogue Arabia broke the news that Nike was launching a high-performance hijab made specifically for Muslim athletes last winter, the internet went into overdrive. Making its debut on Saudi designer Mashael Alrajhi’s runway during Fashion Forward Dubai in October, and photographed in different editorials – including on Halima Aden for US Vogue – practicing women across a different range of sports have been waiting with bated breath for the global launch of the garment. Today, the Nike Pro Hijab has officially landed.
Indeed, the ultra lightweight, stretchy fabric featuring miniature breathable holes for venting, is a game-changer in the world of sports and beyond. Ibtihaj Muhammad, Nike athlete and Olympic fencer, was one of the first women to test-drive the prototype. Prior to the creation of the Pro Hijab, Muhammad would typically compete in a children’s headscarf made of a doubled georgette material, which would often times get really heavy and stiff, obstructing her hearing. “I can’t tell you how many times I got carded,” she says. “And I’d tell the referee, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,’ and they’d think I was lying, but I really couldn’t hear.”
Though not an ideal garment to wear while competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics, Muhammad and other Muslim athletes didn’t have much of a choice. She describes finding a garment suitable to work with as somewhat of a herculean challenge. “I remember I only had a few, and sometimes I couldn’t find the ones I liked anymore or I’d fight with my sisters over who got to wear one,” Muhammad tells Vogue.
Nike designers had meetings with Muhammad and other top athletes over the course of two years to discuss the need for a performance hijab. The sportswear brand then went on to create the prototype, which they gave to several athletes across a different range of sports to test. The feedback was virtually the same from the women, mostly pointing out the desire for a lighter and more breathable garment.
Taking the feedback into consideration, Nike Pro designers created an updated version, resulting in a durable single-layer Nike Pro cool mesh, one of brand’s most breathable fabrics. The stretchy mesh material is combined with an elastic binding in order to allow a personalized fit that adapts to both the wearer’s head and her sport. Additionally, fluff threads were used at the neck and face to eliminate rubbing and irritation that can occur when sweating.
The Nike Pro designers gave the updated headscarf to several athletes to test out, including Muhammad and Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari. This time round, the responses were more positive, with only one request for different sizes to suit various head shapes.
“When I tried the Nike Pro Hijab, it really sunk in how much my previous hijab was hindering my performance,” Muhammad tells Vogue. “Suddenly, I could hear, I wasn’t as hot, and my body was able to cool itself down better and faster.” Echoing her statement, Egyptian Nike Run Club coach Manal Rostom says, “It inspires me to reach greater heights and to run farther distances, and I believe it’s going to inspire girls worldwide to follow their passion for sport.”
Muhammad, who always required a letter from her imam confirming that it was safe for her to wear her religious head covering while competing during school, adds, “I feel like a sports hijab will help advance the conversation around hijabs and make it an inclusive part of conversation for Muslim kids in sports.”
Indeed, the Nike Pro Hijab signals more than just a shift in technology. It’s an empowering call to inclusivity and a woman’s right to play sports no matter what her stance is on covering. By catering to the expansive Muslim market, the sportswear giant is expanding its sphere of influence and customer demographic.
The Nike Pro Hijab comes in black, white, and gray. It’s available on Nike.com and across the Middle East at select retailers in more than 20 countries, including the UAE and Lebanon priced at 99 AED/SAR.