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Nike Victory Swim 5
Courtesy of Nike

Two female Muslim athletes talk Nike’s new modest swimwear line

Game-changing, boundary-pushing athletes Manal Rostom and Nouf Alosaimi reflect on why Nike’s Victory Swim is empowering the hijab community

Pioneering model and Dazed 100 star Ikram Abdi Omar appears from the water, wearing her hijab and a pair of goggles, before she turns to camera and says, “I’m not even gonna lie, I feel like a superhero!” Joining athletes Zahra Lari, Nouf Alosaimi, and Arinna Erin Wira in the water to celebrate Nike’s new Victory Swim campaign, this collection marks a true first. 

A progression of the Nike Pro hijab, the Victory Swim collection is the brand’s first foray into modest swimwear. For athlete Manal Rostom, who founded Surviving Hijab and was the first-ever covered ambassador to be featured in a Nike Middle East campaign back in 2015, this is about making history: “This piece tells us we are included, which is so empowering for the hijab community. It’s a big message.” 

Since 1972, Nike has been advocating for female athletes. From the recent inclusion of plus-size mannequins in its stores, to Serena Williams’ controversial catsuit which was banned at the 2018 US French open (despite being custom made with extra compression to support her post-birth), the brand has consistently endeavoured to open doors that were previously closed.

For Nike’s creative director, VP Martha Moore, the statement “if you have a body, you are an athlete” has never been more relevant. Spearheading the Victory Swim launch over the last two years, it took over 50 builds to perfect the collection. The final pieces include a built in hair net within the hijab, an innovative water-resistant hydrophobic material, and most importantly, skim the body instead of hugging it.

Here, Nouf Alosaimi – who holds the record for deepest dive by a Saudi female, after a ban on women diving there was recently lifted – and Manal Rostom discuss the campaign, their shared experiences, and where we go from here. 

You’ve both stated that this is a product that is going to change history and many women's lives. How does it feel to be part of shaping that history today? 

Manal Rostom: I think it’s a huge statement coming from a giant multi-national brand that embraces diversity and inclusivity. It will really change the narrative and allow for more Muslim hijab-wearing athletes to come forward. It says sport is for everybody whether you’re covered or not.

Nouf Alosaimi: It is my first time being in a campaign, so I am so proud and honoured. I really can’t believe it, it’s crazy. I am happy to be part of something that Nike has done for the first time, like modest swimsuits. It’s such great technology and they pay attention to all the details, so I’m just honoured.

Both of you use your platforms to advocate for hijabi women (Manal in the platform Surviving Hijab you founded and Nouf in your Pink Bubbles Diver initiative). Why is it important for you to use your platform to speak out about issues? 

Manal Rostom: We fight for the rights of hijab-wearing women day in day out. Whether it’s for burkini-bans, or discrimination at airports, or even on LinkedIn when you find a posting and it’s like you need to be able to speak English, you need to have a masters degree but not wear a hijab, and we're thinking what's that supposed to mean? What’s your faith got to do with it? I feel like these are the things we fight for every day and when big multi-national brands come on board and support how we look, I think this will help us change everything. That’s why it's super important for the company to celebrate this moment – it’s changing lives not just putting a new product out in the market.

“Be proud of your body. Accept yourself and do not be influenced by the bodies you see on Instagram ” – Nouf Alosaimi

Surviving Hijab is now up to 600,000 followers… 

Manal Rostom: When I checked today it had gone up to 692,000! Last year we won the community award from Facebook as one of the 100 top influential community groups in the world that is bringing change. What really caught their attention is that we’re a closed community, so membership is only by approval. I still have to approve every single member. We are a growing community, and not a minority anymore. However, we are still under-catered for and that’s why these new products are changing the world.

You started the platform in 2014. What changes have you seen since then?

Manal Rostom: I take a lot of pride in the fact that I was the first-ever covered ambassador to be featured in a Nike Middle East campaign back in 2015. Then Nike went and they got inspired by us, our community, and our message. Then they designed the Nike Pro hijab and I was also involved in the launch campaign. Shortly after that, in May 2017 the FIBA (the International Federation for Basketball) lifted the ban on hijabi basketball athletes. For you it might be a piece of news, but for these teenagers and young talented girls with a talent for sports the wish to exercise your faith a certain way it's a huge deal. Imagine you make it to championships only to be told you won't be allowed to participate just because you cover! Why has it taken so many years for the FIBA to reconsider these rules? Unfortunately, the rules are still in place for the swimming federation, but maybe with a product like this things will start to change.

Equally Nouf, diving for women was only recently lifted in Saudi...

Nouf Alosaimi: Yes, we also have a lot of women that don’t want to scuba dive because wetsuits are so tight. They only want to come and dive on days that there are not a lot of men around, because they don't want to be exposed to them with a very tight diving suit because it doesn't serve the purpose of the hijab. This suit really serves the purpose of hijab which is loose, it gets dry so fast, it’s long, and it covers the whole body. I think a lot more women going to get into diving because of it.

Nouf, do you remember the first time you went on a deep dive?

Nouf Alosaimi: Definitely! I was in shock because the things that I saw down there, I had never seen in it my life. I didn't watch some documentary and then decided to try diving – it was out of the blue. I come from a mountain city so I didn’t have a huge relationship with the sea but when I went diving for the first time I got hooked. Here on land, we hear a lot of voices. So once we go down we just disconnect from this busy lifestyle and we just connect to nature. We’re so mindful in the water we just think about the fish we see, the colours, the details, the coral reefs – in 45 minutes you don’t think about anything else. You start to hear a voice, your inner voice, and you feel so peaceful with yourself.

“You’re either a public personality or you’re not; you’re trying to drive change or you’re not – these are things that you really need to make your mind up about.  If you’re okay with them fine, but if not then you need to step down” - Manal Rostom

What's been your favourite dive to do?

Nouf Alosaimi: I like deep diving. I also like something called drift diving when you just jump and you go with the current you go just drifting, and shark diving is my favourite as well.

You've both spoken of feeling like mentors not only for your fans but for your community. Do you feel the pressure that comes from this or does it come naturally? 

Manal Rostom: At the moment, anything you do or say is always in the spotlight. Sometimes you don’t want to be switched constantly and it is hard because at the end of the day you are human and you are trying to fight for the rights of women but you will make mistakes – a little bit of my hair might show and people are like 'oh but your hair is showing' and I’m like yeah but I’m not intentionally showing it. It does come with huge pressure, but you've signed up for it. You’re either a public personality or you’re not; you’re trying to drive change or you’re not – these are things that you really need to make your mind up about.  If you’re okay with them fine, but if not then you need to step down. I feel like I’ve come so far with this community to step down I’d be giving up myself first and foremost if I’m giving up on them. It stops being about you and it’s about all these little girls who look up to you.

What advice would you both give your teenage selves?

Nouf Alosaimi: I think to be proud of your body. Accept yourself and do not be influenced by the body image you see on Instagram – they’re all just fake.

Manal Rostom: I didn’t grow up with the internet of course, but I think I would just tell myself to keep going and not listen to naysayers and to believe that if I have a dream then it will come true one day. Being involved in all these things that are bringing change to the world is life-changing on so many levels and I wish I knew then what I know now.

The Nike Victory Swim collection drops soon – sign up here to be the first to know.