Photograph — Dezeen

The hijab has seen its fair share of discrimination especially for a piece of clothing and more so in the face of rising intolerance to Islam and Muslims who view the garment as a tool for piety.

But it is so much more than just a head cover.

American sportswear giant and brand to superstars Nike has launched what it calls the “pro-hijab”, a head covering made of lightweight, stretchy polyester that will allow hijab-wearing Muslim women to compete without headscarves that sometimes hurt their performances.

The company joins a short list of designers and brands now making clothing expressly for Muslims, who comprise a quarter of the global population. It comes as a market expansion, turning to the Middle East, where female athletes have begun to emerge, ever convincingly so in a way that projects that they can run religious/cultural practices with sports.

It may seem like just any other kind of product launch, but Nike’s “Pro-Hijab” is part of a bigger conversation. Last month, the brand launched the “What Will They Say About You?” campaign featuring five female athletes from the Arab region.

Muslims are currently about 1.6 billion in the world – that’s 23% percent of the world’s population that Nike is appealing directly to.

Female athletes in the Middle East are a young but growing group. In the 2012 Summer Games, Brunei, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia became the last three countries competing at the Olympics to send women.

Now, do Muslim women need the Pro-Hijab? Yes.

Is the announcement by Nike, political? Maybe.

However, one can’t deny that the timing of the product is crucial in the face of Trump’s behaviour to Islamic countries. Islamophobia has been on the steady increase and even Islamic apparel have come under fire – in 2016, France placed a ban on the ‘burkini’.

Nike’s move tries to level out the playing field in terms of women’s participation in sports, though there are still hurdles in place.

Up until 2014, for example, FIFA didn’t permit athletes to compete with hijabs on and FIBA, the world’s basketball governing body, still bans religious head covers, including hijabs and turbans.

The sports firm with a worth of worth nearly $100 billion isn’t the first to venture into creating sportswear for Muslim women. There are companies that manufacture sport-specific hijabs, as noted by Valeriya Safronova of the New York Times like Capsters in the Netherlands and Friniggi in Botswana.

Beyond the politicking parts of the campaign, which Nike has been careful not to play a strong role in its message, if Nike’s Pro-Hijab campaign is successful, it could the allow the company introduce Muslim women to athleisure wear, an already growing market that is projected to top $350 billion by 2020.

Nike’s move in the Middle East could help the company steer through slow economic growth and global competition in emerging markets as tapping into the Middle East might be the smartest move yet while introducing its products to a new group of consumers.

The Pro-Hijabs with the swoosh design on the side will come in grey, black and obsidian colours and will be released in the spring of 2018 and are expected to cost around $35.

As for the female athletes around the world who will don the Islamic wear once it hits stores, there’s just a piece of advice for you … “Just Do It”.

Watch the Pro-Hijab in action below:

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