The Hijab Entrance to the Athleisure Department

Last week, Nike announced that they are to be the first major sports brand to release hijabs designed for athletes. The appropriately titled ‘Nike Pro Hijab’ will be released to the general market in 2018. This move appears to have come just at the right time; it could help alleviate the burgeoning anti-Islamic attitude that has become apparent with the occurrence of recent events, such as Donald Trump’s ploy to install a blockade on US borders.   

Nike claims that the hijab is designed to be lightweight, breathable, and will be available in a range of neutral colours. The promotional material shows a sleek black hijab with the trademark swoosh above the left ear. It is modelled by United Arab Emirates athlete Zahra Lari, who is the first UAE figure skater to compete internationally, and Amna Al Haddad, who is competes in weightlifting. It is a bold move for Nike, given recent controversy between politics and religion, which has heavily divided people around the world.

Typically, social media backlash has stated that Nike Pro Hijab is profiting on the back of oppression of women, rather than providing the means for professional athletics to become more accessible to Muslim women. All debate aside, the backlash really shows just how heated the debate about the hijab’s place in this world really is. It seems that Nike’s Pro Hijab is ‘Pro’ in more than just the professional way.

“Recent marketing activity in this are urges women to exceed expectations.”

In recent years, Nike has campaigned for the awareness of women in sport, and this campaign has stretched out into the Middle East. Nike’s new women in sport advert, which aired in Saudi Arabia back in February, showed women running, boxing, fencing and skateboarding; five of these women are professional athletes.

The overarching theme of their recent marketing activity in this area urges women to exceed all expectations. It airs in a region where the social and political conversation about women is tense. In Saudi Arabia, access to the gym is restricted for Muslim women and actively discouraged, with women’s gyms being made illegal. The advert directly addresses the stigma that women, especially Muslim women, do not have a space in professional sports.

“It is hard to see how Nike Pro Hijab will profit off of oppression, when the message Nike conveys is explicitly against this.”

Nike is a business, so it is misleading to argue that it’s message is all about social justice. Nike’s move into the Middle Eastern market is as much about fighting off competition, as it is about political statements. Nevertheless, it is hard to see how the Nike Pro Hijab will profit off of oppression, when the message Nike conveys is explicitly against this. Only time will tell if the increased inclusion of the hijab in the fashion industry, especially the ‘athleisure’ department, will open doors for Muslim women, doors they might not have previously thought was open to them.

Ellis Harris

Image Credit: Killikundak via Wikimedia – License.

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