Sportswear giant Nike has launched its first “pro” hijab collection aimed at Muslim women athletes.
The polyester head cover—The Nike Pro Hijab—was designed in response to feedback from Muslim women athletes who grew tired of wearing traditional headscarves during training and competition and were looking for a more comfortable alternative.
The Pro Hijab, which could be available in stores as early as next year, is the culmination of “an ongoing cultural shift that has seen more women than ever embracing sport,” Nike said in a statement.
“This movement first permeated international consciousness in 2012, when a hijabi runner took the global stage in London” the company said, referring to Sarah Attar, an American-born runner who competed in the 2012 Olympics as one of the first females representing Saudi Arabia.
It follows a broader effort from the company to bring modest, Muslim-friendly clothing into the mainstream and appeal to a more diverse consumer base.
The announcement comes only weeks after Nike launched a controversial advert featuring five hijab-wearing athletes playing sport in the streets of Dubai.
The video, which was shared over 75,000 on Twitter within 48 hours, begins with a woman nervously adjusting her headscarf and checking the street before going for a run, while a female voice asks in Arabic: “What will they say about you? Maybe they’ll say you exceeded all expectations.”
A succession of women and men then stare at the sportswomen, including Tunisian fencer Inès Boubakri and Jordanian boxer Arifa Bseiso, while they exercise in public.
But this marketing push hasn’t been received with universal praise, particularly by Muslim women in the Middle East, who say it projects a false image of what their lives look like on a day-to-day basis.
“‘This is not the true representation of Arab, Muslim women. We do not wear a hijab and go running in the streets, shame on Nike” wrote Nada Sahimi on Nike’s Instagram page.
Others denounced the sportswear behemoth for capitalizing on an article of faith and sending women a patronizing message by implying that buying their product would free them from the shackles of domesticity.
“My Hijab is my freedom .. Nike shame on you!!!!!!” a women posted under the video on Youtube.
Whether the hijab is a symbol of feminine empowerment (for women who actively choose to wear it) or one of religious oppression is still subject to debate in Western feminist circles.
While some people applauded Nike for making sports more inclusive for women everywhere (“@NikeMiddleEast Thank you for this incredible art/ad/inspiration I’ll show it to my two little girls today”) a handful of Tweeps complained that the brand had “perverted the hijab into a symbol of feminism & fashion.”
“So Nike is now supporting Anti-Feminism with a new hijab collection for women? Talk about marketing oppression” wrote @KillaDrones.