Published in The New Arab
After months, nay, years, nay decades of waiting – the Nike sports hijab is finally here.
I know what you’re thinking, Muslim women have been making and designing hijabs for years. There were Capsters, there was the ResportOn, there was ASIYA. There was even a line of sports hijabs at UK retailer John Lewis. And if all else fails, there’s the trusty old swim cap.
I have been wearing the hijab for almost as long as I’ve been playing sports – 19 years to be exact. In the last five years my sports of choice have been football, American football, running, badminton and weightlifting. If there’s a sports hijab out there, I have either tried it, tried to get it, or been put off by its flawed design.
Nike has received some criticism for championing themselves as the visionaries of the sports hijab, since an array of start-ups have attempted to break this market for some time. But here’s the thing, none of them had succeeded, and with good reason.
Some sports hijab prototypes can easily slip back or off with a tumble or tackle. Even when playing flag football, it’s not uncommon to come into contact with your opponents, or even have a collision.
For a sports hijab to be successful, it needs to be secure enough not to move or to fall off – especially while we’re out there, running away from Jayda Fransen and her UKIP pitchfork-wielding cronies.
Let’s talk about restriction. No, not the French authorities’ attempt to control Muslim swimwear, but the fact that sports hijabs are often elasticated around the neck, which can be unbearably suffocating if you are doing any kind of rigorous exercise.
Some of the hijabs I tried seemed to have been designed with a light walk in the park in mind, not as a serious item of sportswear, the technology of which should be on par with a sports bra. Fabrics used to design pre-existing sports hijabs is often dense, barely-permeable lycra that should only be reserved for deep-sea diving.
In my case, having exhausted the options available to me, and nearly fainting at a football game in 42 degree heat, while my wetsuit-hijab throttled me by the neck, I resorted to two alternatives.
For regular sports practice and at the gym, I would wear a hiker’s buff (which many Muslim women would be uncomfortable wearing as it reveals the neck), and for competitive games – which are obviously more aggressive – I enlisted the help of my magic-seamstress mother to design a hijab that would not slip and didn’t restrict my neck.
It says much that this homemade sports hijab was better than any that I had actually paid for.
But the wait is over. A sports empire finally noticed the gap in the market, and with it, no doubt, the opportunity for big bucks to be made. According to the "State of the Global Islamic Economy Report" produced by Reuters in collaboration with DinarStandard, $44 billion was spent by Muslim on modest fashion purchases in 2015.
For the last two weeks I have been putting the Nike Pro Hijab through its paces. It has accompanied me on numerous cycle rides, American football sessions, weightlifting at the gym and a couple of runs. So how did it measure up against the pre-existing sports hijabs out there? Does it stand up to the hype?
For the most part, yes. It provides full coverage without resorting to a restrictive design, it is extremely lightweight, quick drying and breathable (to the point that it almost felt underwhelming to hold). In fact, it is so breathable that it can be worn multiple times without requiring a wash. My current record is four wears. It is by far the most versatile and reliable sports hijab I have come across, and it truly feels like an item of sportswear, rather than something that will do the job of covering your hair while you exercise.
It is not without flaws though. I’ve only been able to test the Nike Pro Hijab in temperatures up to around 17 degrees centigrade, and although it kept the head significantly cooler than its competitors – and despite its breathable fabric – it does still get hot under there. There isn’t much to be done about this if you want full hijab coverage though.
The Pro Hijab is currently available in black and navy, in two sizes, but Nike are releasing a wider range of colours this year, including white, which will likely fare better against the summer sun. When exercising in colder weather, the hijab provided a happy medium of defence against the chill, with enough ventilation to prevent over-heating.
If you work out to music, getting your earphones in or adjusting them, or the volume, is fiddly, but not a deal-breaker. It is also not a problem specific to this product, though I would have liked to see small openings for earbuds low down in the hijab.
In order to avoid slippage, the hem of the hijab around the face is very elasticated to the point of discomfort and – in my case – a bit of a headache. I would recommend a third, larger size for those of us with chubby faces.
When working out, I am assuredly a comfort-over-style type of person, but brownie points are definitely awarded to any item that does both. While a stylish sports hijab is borderline oxymoronic, the Pro Hijab gives it a good shot, in that nothing plain and black ever looks terrible, and the Nike tick makes you feel a bit less like your neighbours think you’re mad for running in that.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that this garment has the potential to open up avenues to Muslim women who shy away from sport out of discomfort, embarrassment, or the fear that sport and exercise is not the place for a woman in hijab.
Personally, I would have given a kidney to have a hijab like this when I was at school. With the market for modest fashion so strong at the moment, I would not be surprised if this simple garment, and the market it represents, helps to encourage Muslim women’s participation in sports.
Overall, the Pro Hijab lives up to the hype it has created for itself by hiring multiple Muslim women brand ambassadors plugging the garment all over social media.
And while I would like to support Muslim women-run start-ups over a multinational company, the bottom line is that Nike has produced a good product. With any luck this garment will open up the market to a greater level of competition.
The Nike Pro Hijab is as comfortable, reliable and lightweight as you’re going to find, and offers Muslim women a credible item of sportswear. But I still have one question: with its innovative breathable fabric, will ignorant people finally stop asking me if I can hear them while I’m wearing that?