There’s been something of a stereotyped perception by the Western world about life for women in the Middle East, or Muslim countries in general. Now, despite some progress and new openness brought on by the times, there’s still truth in how the lives of women and girls in the Middle East are still expected to toe the gender roles, with fundamentalists aplenty ready to condemn when somebody really steps out of line. This is often connected to issues of religious wear like the hijab, the lack of which can really earn the ire of traditionalists. Meanwhile Nike, after recent collaborations to develop a new line of women’s sportswear, has decided to include Arab women in this vision, by releasing a new commercial for the region and introducing an athletic variant of the hijab for sports.

Nike Pro Hijab

In a way, this development was a long time coming, and Nike was able to take notice of how some Muslim women athletes in some major international sporting competitions have complaints about the dichotomy of respecting religious traditions and having a Head Covering that can both stay on and not get in the way during intense movement. To address that the longtime major brand in shoes and athletic wear spent a year and a month to perfect a sports-oriented head covering that can be marketed in Muslim countries for women with an active lifestyle. Thus was born the Nike Pro Hijab.

As the very name itself implies, the Pro Hijab is the traditional head covering given a modern and rugged makeover.

It consists of a single-layer pullover design, sort of like a form-fitting hoodie that clings to the head and keeps stray hair strands out of sight. Nike had the Pro Hijab made from lightweight polyester fabric with very tiny holes in the traditional dark and neutral colors for proper sensibilities; the weave helps the fabric breathe like any other sportswear, but is opaque as mandated.

‘What will they think of you?’

Nike has a big-name Muslim athlete testing out their Pro Hijab before it becomes available on the market in 2018. Zahra Lari of the UAE is a unique athlete in her region by virtue of being a highly competitive figure skater from a mostly desert country. There is no better example to try out this new athlete-optimized head covering and she is very pleased with the snug fit and light weight.

This rather unusual product from Nike comes in the wake of their controversial commercial for the Middle East, which featured several successful professional and ordinary Muslim women athletes including Lari and Olympic fencer medalist Ines Boubakri. While many among its estimated 3 million viewers left positive comments about the slogan “What will they think of you?” more conservative parties have decried the ad as a subtle call to Arab women to stop wearing hijabs.