Nike just unveiled (pun unintended) their new line of sports hijabs. The impetus behind such a move came from the growth of female Muslim athletes seeking to participate in popular sports and having hijabs that are conducive to such activities.
From the outset, I want to state that I 100% support female Muslim athletes participating in sports and wearing whatever they want. And I think it’s wonderful that sports-oriented hijabs are available to allow them to do that. My skepticism arises from the fact that Nike is involved.
My problem is not with the athletes, but with the demonic corporate behemoth trying to ingratiate itself even further into Muslim society.
The Arab News article points out that “Muslim consumer spending on clothing is estimated at $243 billion in 2015, according to the State of Global Islamic Economy’s report. The revenues from modest fashion clothing purchased by Muslim women have been estimated at $44 billion in 2015. Muslim spending on clothing is expected to reach $368 billion by 2021.”
Go to any city (or even village) in the Middle East today and you’ll be sure to see the Nike swoosh (along with other corporate logos) splayed across any assortment of clothing. Western multitnational corporations have fully penetrated the markets of the Middle East.
Here’s an anecdote from a non-Muslim artist and blogger named Tommy Kane:
“The other day I was riding on the subway. I noticed a muslim girl wearing a Hijab or headscarf. It was black. When we exited the train together, I noticed that in dark grey were Calvin Klein logos all over here Hijab. I was a bit stunned by that. Is that allowed? Who knows.”
We’re living in a blurred space. Is the purpose of the hijab to sell clothing?
It seems fairly self-evident that we have a problem when Western corporations are co-opting these symbols and transforming them into manipulative ploys of consumerism.
Adidas, Puma, Nike, and all the others are looking for their piece of the pie of the multi-billion dollar Muslim market.
Nike is by no means some enlightened, benevolent company simply set on trying to help Muslim women participate in sports. Nike is seeking a profit, an in, a market-share, and (naturally) a recuperation of Muslim culture into the superstructure.
If Nike seems feminist or inclusive here, then we must take a step back.
Nike is one of the largest apparel companies in the world and is notorious for its use of sweatshops. Nike, of course, denies this fact on the basis that it sub-contracts out its labor to small factories dotted around the Third World. But anyone with a brain knows that workers in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Honduras, or China aren’t working in humane conditions.
Regardless of how many glowing articles Business Insider writes, Nike’s name and logo equal one thing: human rights violations.
So while the (almost exclusively white) American executives lay out their sleek business reports and cash in on their exaggerated profits, those (mostly women of color) languishing in sweatshops around the world are left suffering.
Poor Muslim women in Bangladesh making Nike hijabs for rich Muslim women in Gulf States.
There are no limits to the irony here when one female athlete talks about how “the Nike Pro Hijab empowers her.” And, of course, in a way, she’s right.
The deeply patriarchal power structures in the Gulf are suffocating on everyone. The atrocious instruments of control that exist need to be uprooted.
However, is Nike really a trustworthy ally in the struggle against patriarchy?