Nike, a company estimated to be worth $27 billion, understands the difference apparel can make to an athlete. And like any viable business, it knows the world is full of potential customers.
And so in its latest market expansion, the brand has turned to the Middle East, where female athletes have begun to come into their own over the last few years.
This week, Nike announced that it would release a Pro Hijab for female Muslim athletes in spring 2018. The hijab, which is expected to cost $35, is made of a lightweight, stretchy mesh polyester and will come in gray, black and obsidian. Throughout several stages of development, the product was tested by a group that included Zahra Lari, the first figure skater from the United Arab Emirates to compete internationally; Manal Rostom, a runner and triathlete currently living in Dubai; and Amna Al Haddad, an Olympic weight lifter from the United Arab Emirates.
The move followed Nike’s release of an Arabic version of its Nike & Training Club app early last year and the beginning of a campaign featuring five female athletes from the Arab region with the tagline “What will they say about you?” last month.
“There 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,” Ms. Rostom wrote over WhatsApp. “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.”
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. That same year, Egypt’s contingent included 37 women, the highest number of female athletes representing the country since it entered the games in 1912.