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News > World

Exploiting Empowerment? Nike's New Sport Hijab Spurs Debate

  • Olympic hopeful Zahra Lari tested the hijab.

    Olympic hopeful Zahra Lari tested the hijab. | Photo: Instagram / Zahra Lari

Published 8 March 2017

Nike's hijab was announced around the same time the company released a video about Middle Eastern women that perpetuated many Orientalist stereotypes.

Nike, one of the world’s largest sportswear brands, has become the first to manufacture a sports performance hijab — meeting both fanfare and cautious criticisms.

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The product, which has been in works for over a year, was designed with input from Muslim women. The pull-on hijab is made of stretchy fabric, with small holes for breathability. To be available in 2018, it will come in three colors: black, gray and obsidian.

Figure skater Zahra Lari, a Winter Olympics hopeful next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea, tested out the hijab and posted photos to her Instagram. Like Lari, many Muslim women were overjoyed at the news.

Still, others critiqued the commercial aspect of a product that has long been in the market.

Namira Islam, lawyer and director of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, took to her public Facebook page to point out how the product may drive out Muslim women already making sport hijabs.

“While large corporations starting to produce hijab-friendly clothing has some invaluable weight when it comes to representation in a world that dehumanizes Muslim, the larger context is that these corporations are … breaking into an untapped market that is worth millions if not billions of dollars,” she wrote.

“Because by celebrating the so-called sign of ‘acceptance’ by a large corporation, we are going to be watching money flow out of the community; innovative Muslim women designers lose out on opportunities; and the perpetuation of labor rights violations, except this time in the name of ’standing with Muslims’,” she continued.

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This month Nike also released a commercial featuring women playing sports in the Middle East. While it was also celebrated by some, others took to critiquing the tired portrayal of Muslim and Middle Eastern women as rising against all odds, defying the archetypal sexist Arab man. Many also pointed out the lack of Black women in the video.

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