On March 7, 2017, Nike announced its expansion into a new market with the Pro Hijab. The product is designed for Muslim female athletes and will be available for sale in spring 2018. CNN Money reports the design process took 13 months, resulting in a lightweight, breathable design that still adheres to religious standards. According to the New York Times, a group of athletes including United Arab Emirates figure skater Zahra Lari, United Arab Emirates Olympic weight lifter Amna Al Haddad, and triathlete and runner Manal Rostom who currently lives in Dubai, have all tested and praised the Nike Pro Hijab. Rostom explained “[t]here weren’t any hijabi athletes to look up to when I was growing up, and I had to be my own pioneer, and now girls today have women like Amna Al Haddad and Zahra Lari to look to as role models, which is so inspiring. For young girls to see these women and to see this revolutionary shift will change the face of sport for Muslim Arab girls, whether they wear hijab or not.”
Nike’s foray into this market is but one component of a larger strategy to reach Muslim athletes across the world. The New York Times reports that the Pro Hijab announcement followed the release of an Arabic version of the Nike & Training Club app and a Middle East marketing campaign featuring female athletes from the region. Nike’s most recent ad featured Arab women boxing, fencing, running and skateboarding, with the tagline “What will they say about you? Maybe they’ll say you exceeded all expectations.” The significance of the first clause of this statement is that is a phrase that young Arab women are often confronted with if they do not conform to traditional cultural norms.
Reuters noted that although some criticized the ad for not accurately portraying what life is like as a female athlete in Arab countries, Sara al-Zawqari, a spokeswoman for the International Red Cross in Iraq, stated “[a]n ad (which) touches on the insecurities of women in a society digs deeper and becomes an empowerment tool rather than just a product.”
Kendall Howell is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2019).