Why We Made a Sport Hijab
Meet the climbers and designers who built a technical hijab for climbing and other outdoor sports.
For Marjana Tafader, learning to rock climb was, in her words, transformational. “It felt like I was connecting back to my roots in some sense,” she says. “I'm from Bangladesh, and I lived in a village until I came to America when I was around 10. I was actually in New York City and was never able to go outdoors for that kind of thing—I was just a city girl. Then rock climbing gave me that opportunity to go back in nature and find joy and peace. That was, for me, very powerful.”
Marjana is a student, and small in stature. “I'm 5'1" and I weigh like, what, 87 pounds,” she says. That’s another reason she relishes climbing—the experience of doing something powerful in a smaller body. Now she mentors other climbers through Young Women Who Crush, an Outdoor Research Nonprofit Partner in New York—which is how we connected with her.
When Marjana is out climbing with friends, she’s often the only woman of color and usually the only woman wearing hijab, she says. That’s part of why she was super excited to collaborate with Outdoor Research on our all-new ActiveIce Sport Hijab, she says.
In Marjana, Outdoor Research product manager Sara Nazim saw a familiar story. Growing up in competitive climbing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sara watched her muslim women teammates making do when it came to modest headwear. “Hijabs secured with pins and wouldn’t fit well under climbing helmets,” she says. “The ends of the hijab were at risk of getting caught in a belay device, and there’s an unsettling feeling that the hijab could slip while you’re focusing on a send.”
Sara knew there must be a way to do better—to make something modest that would move with her teammates’ motions and not inhibit their climbing in a stressful competitive setting. For her entrance essay to grad school, she wrote about it. “I wanted to create a technical performance hijab that moves with you and feels secure enough that you can focus on your sport,” she says. “Not a skin-tight balaclava-like hijab, but one that flows with pleats and folds. One you can take you from the gym, crag, or ski slope to class or lunch with friends. The hijab is such an important garment but there has been so little attention to it in the sports or outdoor design world.”
“We really want to make sure that the fit, the function, the way it hangs on your body is what you'd expect from a hijab."
In 2020, the pieces finally came together. Back and forth over Zoom calls, Sara worked with Marjana, designer Phoebe Coleman, and product developer Daovone Vongsaly-Udom to create and test different iterations.
“We chose a factory we work with in Indonesia, wanting to make sure that everyone who touches this in the product creation process is someone who understands the product and the customer,” Sara says. “We really want to make sure that the fit, the function, the way it hangs on your body is what you'd expect from a hijab. They were super helpful—they would even try on the prototypes before they were sent to us and they'd make suggestions on how we can improve the fit.”
Having the hijab fit snugly and comfortably around the face and also support the hair underneath were both crucial design aspects. So was the aesthetic.
“At OR we have a lot of balaclavas, we have a lot of jackets with hoods,” Sara says. “But we didn't want to start with something that covers the head and just kind of reformat it to fit the hijab. We wanted to think about what makes a hijab unique—how do people like to wear it?”
That resonated with Marjana. “I like to make my hijab look flattering when I'm climbing,” she says. “That's where my confidence comes from. Being able to have it fit right to my face—I never found a hijab that was actually able to do that.”
Where most Outdoor Research products go through two or three prototypes—four for really complex products—the hijab started out with three different design options just in the first round and went from there. Prototypes were shipped back and forth for video calls about fit and function, tested with different head sizes and hair types.
Countless Zoom calls and at least a half dozen prototypes later, the ActiveIce Sport Hijab was ready. Designed to work with a helmet, it stays securely around the face and has a hidden shock cord in the back that cinches the hijab down for high-exertion activity and keeps hair off the neck. The fabric is wicking and breathable but still has a soft drape to it, more like a traditional hijab.
For Marjana, having a technical hijab that looks good and fits great means more than just technical performance. She says having access to more options like this could make more women like her comfortable in the outdoors.
Which is, in the end, the best review we could ask for.