Oregon, United States (Reuters): Nike Inc (NKE.N) announced its plans to launch a high-tech hijab for female Muslim athletes early next year, becoming the first major sports apparel maker to offer a traditional Islamic head scarf designed specifically for competition, the company said on Wednesday.
In recent years, the hijab has become the most visible symbol of Islamic culture in the United States and Europe. Many Muslim women cover their heads in public with the hijab as a sign of modesty, but some critics see it as a sign of female oppression.
The head scarf has led to attacks against Muslim women with sensitivities over immigration and the perceived threat of Muslim extremism running high. At the same time, the hijab has evolved in a symbol of diversity that Nike has embraced.
The Women's March on Washington, held the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration, used the face of a woman wearing a hijab in an American flag pattern as its promotional image.
Last year, Danish sportswear company Hummel unveiled a soccer jersey with an attached hijab for the Afghanistan national women's soccer team.
But Nike 's annual net sales in the billions, and its reach in popular culture, can do more to bring Muslim athletes into the fold, said Amna Al Haddad, a Nike sponsored weightlifter from the United Arab Emirates who consulted on "Pro Hijab ."
Haddad said, "(It will) encourage a whole new generation to pursue sports without feeling there is a limitation because of modesty or dress-code."