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Nike’s Head Start

Nike’s Head Start
Modest achievement: When it is released next year, the Pro Hijab (shown here on a model) will be the world’s first massmarket performance head scarf. [Photos: Samantha Casolari]

While Amna Al Haddad, a weight lifter from Dubai, was training for the 2016 Olympics, Nike offered to help optimize her performance. At the company’s Oregon campus, scientists used motion-capture technology to study her movements. During the process, Al Haddad realized her real need was much more elemental. She had searched for a hijab suitable for weight lifting, but nothing stayed in place. She settled for a single, stretchy scarf that she hand-washed nightly. “We have so many tools at our disposal,” says Megan Saalfeld, a Nike senior communications director. “[We thought,] This is something we can solve.” With Saalfeld in charge, designers set to work on a hijab that employs Nike’s collection of lightweight, breathable materials and ability to create products that are secure yet comfortable. The hijab, which is being prototyped, will be released next spring. It has sparked discussion at the company about what else Nike can offer women who dress conservatively—a style chronically underserved by the athleisure industry and its affinity for skintight cuts. From focus groups, Saalfeld learned the importance of balancing coverage and function: Testers asked Nike to hem one early hijab prototype, which hung below the chest, so that it would look more like something an athlete might wear. “They want the hijab to signal that they mean business,” says Saalfeld.