Social media is awash these days with talk of Nike’s sports hijab, from both those in favour and those against. Personally I’m all for global brands increasing opportunities for Muslim women involved in sport. We wear their trainers, tracksuits and sports bras, so why not what we wear on our head? The only reservation I have is that they will begin to eat into the market of smaller brands, that have already worked hard to bring modest sportswear to market.
It is encouraging then, that many in the Muslim community have been willing to champion and support these pioneers, at a time when a brand with global reach is getting all the attention. Businesses such as Friniggi and Nashata are rightfully receiving the attention they deserve as the forerunners to Nike’s efforts.
All businesses are motivated by profits. The Nike sports hijab was initially developed in response to requests from a Muslim athlete, and they clearly recognised a gap in the market. Surely it is positive that they recognise the drive towards equality in sports: we should commend their efforts. But we should still recognise that they are also benefiting from the hard work of the smaller brands that preceded them, most of whom did not have the vast capital reserves of the likes of Nike to invest in research and development. Instead they invested in the product from their own time and money, investigating breathable fabrics, testing different styles and designs for comfort and safety… and then went to work attempting to market their products to a global audience, without the benefit of vast advertising budgets.
Most small businesses can really only rely on word of mouth recommendations, and reputation. Perhaps some will be able to advertise in relatively small-scale Muslim publications, but few will run on TV or in the mainstream sports press. A viral social media campaign is perhaps the best they can hope for. Even Muslim charities which send their supporters out to run marathons in branded kit, lack the foresight to strike a sponsorship deal with these manufacturers of modest sportswear. Too often it is every man for himself.
I, for one, hope that the Muslim community will begin to better value those small brands working to make participation in sport easier and more comfortable for Muslim women. Buy their products, recommend them to friends, flag them up on social media, blog about them — in the same way you would for a brand like Nike. Recognise that smaller brands may have higher overheads, less access to the supply chains which promise us cheaper products delivered at minimal cost: be prepared to give them a leg up, and help them establish themselves. In short, just do it!