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Nike hijab opens the door for female athletes of all faiths

In a nod to the changing cultural landscape, the sports apparel giant introduces the Pro Hijab

The hijab — the humble, sometimes controversial head covering worn by devout Muslim women — has generated unexpected buzz in the fashion world lately.

First, it was a gorgeous Somali-American Muslim runway model, Halima Aden, who wore a hijab — and stole the show — during the unveiling of Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 5 collection in New York last month. Adem, who first made headlines competing in a hijab and burkini in the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant last year — stayed in her hijab while walking several designer runway shows in Milan and Paris — Max Mara and Alberta Ferretti were just two — that ended last week. IMG Models has since signed Adem, paving the way for other hijab-wearing models to plunge into the world of high fashion.

Last week, amid the hubbub surrounding International Women’s Day, the hijab got its first commercial plug from none other than Nike, Inc. The sneaker behemoth introduced its newest apparel product, the Pro Hijab, a head covering designed expressly for Muslim sports women. The $27 billion sports apparel company unveiled the Pro Hijab on YouTube in a two-minute video. The Nike Middle East video named What Will They Say About You? is in Arabic (with English subtitles) and showcased powerful Arab female athletes jogging, skateboarding, boxing and fencing.

That controversial Nike video that got 1.5 million YouTube hits. It also deftly repositions the hijab away from its sometimes polarizing symbolism as a garment that represses women. Wearing hijab has been banned in countries such as France and Turkey, and in some public schools in the United States. Nike’s Pro Hijab turns a Muslim woman’s single-layer polyester pull-on into a fashion statement and a tool of female empowerment.

The Pro Hijab will go on sale in spring 2018 and will cost about $35. The scarves come in black and dark gray, all neutral colors that are opaque, which is mandated by Muslim law. This hijab is also designed to absorb sweat and stay in place during strenuous exercise.

Courtesy of Nike

With the Pro Hijab, Nike aims to make headway in the growing Middle Eastern marketplace, where more Muslim female professional athletes are competing.

The Pro Hijab was in development for more than a year, and Nike’s Pro design team offered high-tech prototypes for testing to several Muslim female athletes. Weightlifter Amna Al Haddad and figure skater Zahra Lari, both of whom are from the United Arab Emirates, and Manal Rostom, a Dubai-based runner and triathlete, tested Nike’s hijab. Another Muslim female athlete, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, was the first American to wear a hijab in Olympic competition at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Nike isn’t the first sports apparel company to sell a hijab to female athletes, but is the largest and most powerful brand that has a global distribution reach and cultural clout. It’s also rare for a brand to appeal to directly to a Muslim audience. According to a report by Thomson Reuters, Muslims spent $230 billion globally on clothing in 2014. That amount is expected to increase to $327 billion by 2020.

The announcement of the Pro Hijab has received praise from Muslim women. Despite the company’s consumerist agenda, Nike “is catering to a niche market (modest fashion) within a niche market (modest sportswear) creating positive representation and inclusivity of minority groups,” Hassanah El-Yacoubi, a modest-lifestyle blogger, told NBC News.

Nike has been outspoken about the company’s push and policy of diversity and cultural inclusion. During last month’s Super Bowl, the company aired its highly praised Equality commercial starring star athletes LeBron James, Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas and Megan Rapinoe. And Nike president and CEO Mark Parker blasted President Donald Trump for his executive order that banned travelers and immigrants traveling from certain Muslim countries to enter the United States.

Jill Hudson is the senior style writer for the Undefeated. She is an evolved nerd, a caffeinated shoe fanatic, and a maker of long lists and perfect martinis.