A Performance Hijab for the Olympics

 

By Allison Yates

  • When Melissa Scott went on a business trip to Central Asia and the Middle East in 2015, she didn’t anticipate designing a makeshift hijab.
  • The 52-year-old Michigan native isn’t Muslim, or the most obvious person to launch an active wear brand. But when it comes to sports, she knows her stuff. She served on the Japanese Olympic Committee in 1992, refereed for USA Cycling and USA Rowing, coached rowing Olympians in the early 2000s and later worked in marketing and sponsorships internationally.
  • When she embarked on this particular trip to scout locations for speed skating events, she took a hijab with her for cultural consideration. Scott was born deaf and wears hearing aids. She also wears glasses. The hijab she’d brought pushed against both of those, and the pressure caused migraines.
  • So one night in a hotel room in Kazakhstan she got creative. She took her existing hijab, cut out ear holes and sewed in a pocket with the basic hotel sewing kit. It did the trick, and she wore it for the rest of her trip. It proved effective while Scott was running or playing pickup soccer. While she was working, several female athletes noticed and kept asking if she’d make a hijab just like hers for their training.
  • The result was what she calls the “first-ever hijab for the digital era,” an athletic performance hijab that includes an interior pocket and ear holes for cellphone or Bluetooth earbuds, or tools like stethoscopes, earpieces, glasses or hearing aids. It took off. Then the requests for more modest activewear kept coming. By 2016 Scott was selling as a private label, and she officially launched MODEFYwear in 2017. The brand targets women who want to cover up for any reason, but specifically “modest women” — typically Muslim, Orthodox Jewish and Pentecostal Christian.
  • Backed by investors including TV chef Cat Cora, True Religion founder Kym Gold and award-winning producer Nicole Ehrlich, the brand now sells swim dresses, surfwear, swim skirts, athletic skirts, arm sleeves, hijabs and kurtas, and soon it will debut an athletic snood. After that, the company will start designing kurtas and saris.
  • MODEFYwear sells to professional athletes and everyday women across the U.S., as well as the Iranian women’s surfing team, Oman’s track and field athletes and the Israeli women’s basketball team. Scott expects her threads to be represented by several athletes at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and she’s working on deals with entire teams. While the company is still small, Scott estimates it’s manufacturing around 1 million pieces a year and growing. She expects to double the company’s $3.9 million average revenue this year. MODEFYwear’s eight employees design and manufacture all products in Los Angeles.
  • The company’s target audience has historically experienced structural and logistical barriers to entering the athletic world. Scott says that there are many fabrics and designs of modest athletic wear that simply aren’t “conducive to performance.” A cotton or polyester hijab in the summer heat is not only going to be painful and feel like a wet rag, but “it will slow you down,” says Scott. In a profession where every millisecond counts, the wrong uniform could be the difference between winning and losing. Not to mention, the lack of appropriate training gear kept many women away from sports.
  • Read More: https://www.ozy.com/around-the-world/you-can-catch-her-sports-hijabs-at-the-olympics

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