After months of anticipation, Nike’s Pro Hijab is now available to buy in the UK, encouraging more Muslim women to take part in sport.
Nike announced it was trialling the high-performance hijab back in March to combat the fact that many Muslim women still “face barriers and limited access” to exercise.
The new hijab is created from lightweight, stretchy polyester with breathable holes, designed to fit women “like a second skin” and not interfere with movement.
The launch has been praised by a number of Muslim athletes, with figure skater Zahra Lari, from the United Arab Emirates, calling the Pro Hijab a symbol of empowerment.
“It’s a reminder to us Muslim women that we can achieve anything in the world,” she said.
“What Nike has done for Muslim athletes is a dream that we never thought would happen.”
To create the new product, Nike designers met with top athletes to find out some of the barriers traditional hijabs can cause around sport.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, a champion fencer from New Jersey, explained that wearing a traditional hijab restricted her hearing in the past, meaning she was penalised for false starts.
“First, I’d get a warning and then a point against me…I can’t tell you how many times that happened. And I’d tell the referee, ‘oh, I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you,’” she said.
Muhammad, who earned a bronze medal in Rio in 2016 for Team USA, typically competed in a children’s hijab that was made of a doubled georgette material.
“When the material is wet, it gets really heavy and stiff,” she said, describing what it felt like to sweat with her hijab on.
Beyond that, the garment didn’t interact well with her uniform. Her hijab tied in the back, she pinned the front portion under her chin, then she’d tuck the extra fabric under her sports bra straps so it would stay in place under her mask.
“I know that’s hard to envision, but that’s what I wore for literally my entire athletic career,” she said.
Although wearing a children’s hijab was less than ideal, Muhammad struggled to find any better options.
“I remember I only had a few that I used for training and hadn’t been able to find that particular style anymore,” she said.
“On top of that, hijabs weren’t fully understood. When I was in school, I always had to have a letter from a local imam that said that it was safe for me to wear my religious covering during sport. My coaches had to have that with them at all times.”
Following conversations like this with athletes, Nike designers created a sports hijab prototype to address the issues, which was trialled by athletes including weightlifter Amna Al Haddad and figure skater Zahra Lari, both from the United Arab Emirates.
Everyday athletes from around the Middle East, including runners like Manal Rostom, a Nike Run Club Coach in Dubai, and Zeina Nassar, a German boxer, also assessed the prototype.
The designers used their feedback to amend the product and finally, the Pro Hijab was born.
Muhammad first experienced the finished garment, which comes in a range of sizes, in August 2017.
“It really sunk in how much my previous hijab was hindering my performance when I tried the Nike Pro Hijab,” she said.
“Suddenly, I could hear, I wasn’t as hot and it felt like my body was able to cool itself down better and faster.”
She added that the hijab also has an important symbolic significance for Muslim women.
“The Nike Pro Hijab will help advance the conversation around hijabs and Muslim women in sports and further make sports an inclusive space,” she said.
Manal Rostom, who recently completed the New York Marathon in the hijab, agreed.
“It inspires me to reach greater heights and to run farther distances,” she said.
“And I believe it’s going to inspire girls worldwide to follow their passion for sport.”
The Nike Pro Hijab is available December 1 in black and obsidian on nike.com and at select retailers in Europe, North Africa, North America and across the Middle East. Other colours, including white and grey, will launch in January on nike.com and at select retailers in more than 20 countries.