Nike launches sports hijab in latest Middle Eastern push

Lucy Handley, special to CNBC

Sportswear giant Nike has launched a "performance" hijab, aiming to get more Middle Eastern women and girls to play sport.

The company says it spent a year creating the Nike Pro Hijab, which is made with breathable "power mesh" fabric, and will come in two sizes.

"The Nike Pro Hijab has been a year in the making but its impetus can be traced much further back to Nike's founding mission, to serve athletes, with the signature addendum: If you have a body, you're an athlete," the company said in an emailed statement.

It will also come with elastic binding which can be adjusted depending on which sport is being played, and is made long to avoid becoming untucked.

"By providing Muslim athletes with the most groundbreaking products, like the Nike Pro Hijab, Nike aims to serve today's pioneers as well as inspire even more women and girls in the region who still face barriers and limited access to sport," it said.

Nike works with weightlifter Amna Al Haddad, a Muslim and former journalist from Dubai, who is shown training in Nike gear in an April 2016 article on its website but her hijab is unbranded. The company tested prototypes with her and other sportswomen, including Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari. Al Haddad said that traditional hijabs moved around during activity, and that its lack of breathability disrupted her focus.

The brand said the hijab is the latest step in its commitment to the Middle Eastern region, where it has 24 stores in the United Arab Emirates and 28 in Saudi Arabia, as well as an Arabic version of its training app.

This isn't the first time a large Western brand has launched sportswear suitable for women who want to cover up. U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer sells a 3-piece swimsuit, which covers the head and body.

Meanwhile, soccer governing body Fifa lifted a ban on head covers for male and female players in 2014.

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