It started off as a regular Tuesday, but it didn’t end like that. This was the day that Nike unveiled its first modest swimwear collection. It also became the first time I felt truly represented.
“Is this what white people feel like all the time?” I asked friends next to me. We were all puzzled, and no one replied. A wave of unfamiliar emotion had taken us over. As we looked at the Nike-branded swimsuits that stood before us, we saw a reflection of ourselves – and not just us: we saw our mothers, sisters, and aunts.
It became clear: real representation feels good, really good.
A friend and I held hands. She cried, and I found myself firmly gripping her hand tighter, on the verge of tears. You can call us dramatic, but it was actually that overwhelming. It was a powerful moment, as dramatic as a cliff-hanger in the final episode of a Turkish soap opera– minus the theatrics. This was real.
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Nike’s Victory Swim Collection, as the sportswear giant called their take on modest swimwear, was real. The swimsuits look like the burkinis that a slew of Muslim women were arrested for wearing on French beaches. But they weren’t the same. These were studied. They neither clung to the bodies of the women who wore them, nor did they float up as they got in the water.
When you jump in the pool, the water glides right off them. Martha Moor, the Vice President of Design at Nike explained that the suit was made from 70 per cent nylon and 30 per cent spandex, a recipe that makes the fabric more water repellent than countless other burkinis on the market. They also come with a built-in bra, and a pocket in the hijab where women can tuck in their hair so it doesn’t slide out whilst in the water.
Muslim women’s needs were finally being met. With their Victory Swim Collection, Nike identified our problems and found solutions for them. Beyond the materialism inherent to a corporation, Nike is inarguably inclusive. We now matter to one of the world’s biggest global brands. Finally, we are visible.
That day, I couldn’t get my mother off my mind. The summer that had just passed was her first time at the beach in 10 years. It took a lot of convincing, and even then, she didn’t swim. I couldn’t help but think that she might have, had a Nike-branded swimsuit existed then.
I thought about how when I first joined the swim team as a teenager, how I had to convince my parents that the team swimsuit was my uniform, and despite it being revealing, I had no choice but to wear it. That conversation would have been much easier had there have been a Nike-branded modest swimsuit I could have worn.
Not that burqinis didn’t exist, but the Nike swoosh would have protected me. It would have been my shield of armour against the bullies who would have undoubtably made fun of the ad-hoc modest swimsuit I’d have otherwise worn in my Northern Virginia town.
The day Nike unveiled their modest swimwear collection, a massive step towards real representation was taken. But it’s only the first. The ultimate goal is that we wouldn’t even need a logo as a shield of armour to begin with.