Breaking barriers since 1999: Introducing the world’s first sports hijab

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As the first ever inventors of the sports hijab, Capsters aims to encourage women to stay active while being safe and comfortable. 

Born and raised in the Netherlands, Cindy van den Bremen was always interested in other cultures and religions. Hijab had always been a contentious issue in Europe, especially in the early 90s when debate over the integration of Muslim women in the diaspora was prominent. Even now, politicians are constantly addressing the issue of wearing hijab in the West.

“I found it hard to believe that you can judge the needs of others and decided to dive into the sensitive matter of veiling,”  van den Bremen said.

As a fashion design student, van den Bremen shifted her final project to research athletic hijabs after a girl in a Netherlands school was barred from gym class because she was wearing hijab. The school deemed her hijab ‘unsafe,’ and when taken to court changed the rules to allow Muslim students to wear a swim cap-turtleneck-combo to gym class instead.

After the court ruling, van den Bremen realized she had a duty to design something that would make the girls feel comfortable and be safe enough to wear while doing gym activities. A swim cap, she argued wouldn’t allow the girls to safely release body heat and sweat.

“It made me realize it was not about the covering, but about the way the girls cover themselves and that there was a task for me as a designer to design something that would meet both parties,” she said.

Despite her professors dismay about choosing to research hijab for her final project, van den Bremen persisted. To find a solution for these girls, van den Bremen continued her research. She read versus of the Quran that addressed covering one’s self and spoke to several Muslim women about their choice to wear hijab. 

Finally, after months of experimenting with different materials and supplies van den Bremen presented four hijabs (each for a different sporting occasion) as her final project. Her designs went on to win a Good Design Award and are part of the permanent collection at Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

Originally, van den Bremen tried selling the hijab designs to big sports brands (including Nike) with no success. She speculates that perhaps, at the time, big sports brands were “afraid to burn their fingers on this hot issue” i.e. hijab. 

After an article van den Bremen had written about her project was published, orders started flooding in. And thus, Capsters was born. Although van den Bremen didn’t intend on starting a hijab business, she realized the importance of the product for many Muslim women worldwide. 

“I received orders from school principals, gym teachers, girls themselves, but also their relatives that wanted to order a sport hijab for their daughter, niece or cousin. Because my motives were not commercially driven I did not think of launching my own brand or even company,” she said.

In 2012, van den Bremen and the Capsters team worked together with Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, vice president of FIFA and founder of the Asian Football Federation, to lift FIFA’s hijab ban. FIFA also had deemed hijab ‘unsafe,’ posing a risk of head or neck injury. 

After a request from Prince Ali’s Asian Football Federation and a two-year trial period, FIFA finally lifted its ban on hijabs on the field. Capsters is now officially approved by FIFA to be worn by players as ‘The Capsters Football’ hijab was designed with a fastening velcro strap that released when pulled. The strap was strategically designed and tested to avoid head or neck injuries.

Capsters continues to provide breathable athletic hijabs while empowering women through sport.

“One of the biggest arguments we hear of opposing against hijabs is that it would oppress women, but by excluding these women (whether it is their own choice to cover or not) you are preventing them from fully participating in society and playing their part as a role model to inspire other girls in less fortunate positions,” van den Bremen said. “Still a lot of work needs to be done, in enabling women worldwide to participate in sports. Capsters hopes to contribute to that.

 

We’re hosting a giveaway on our Instagram page where we’ll be giving away a Capster’s best seller! 

Filed under Featured, Fitness, Uncategorized

Rawan Elbaba is a digital storyteller and blogger in the Washington, DC Metro area. She is the co-founder and Executive Editor of Layali Webzine. As a graduate of Communication and Graphic Design, Rawan hopes to use both written and visual content to tell the stories happening around her. Rawan previously interned at Al Jazeera and BBC in their news production units. She is currently the Digital Media Associate at the Arab American Institute in Washington, DC.