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Four women in the water wearing Nike's Victory swimwear smile at the camera
Nike
Ready for a swim.
A MODEST PROPOSAL

Nike courts a growing Muslim market with innovative, modest swimwear

By Marc Bain

As a designer, Martha Moore, the creative director vice president at Nike, is always looking for problems to solve. While doing research for Nike’s swim collection, she found one.

At pools and beaches, she often noticed Muslim women and girls weren’t in the water. Those who did enter wore modest swimsuits or other clothes that, to Moore’s eye, were less than ideal. “Really heavy, really wet, really uncomfortable,” she told Quartz. “And when a designer sees that kind of problem, we’re like, ‘We can help you.'”

Nike’s solution is the Victory Swim collection, the new line of modest swimwear it plans to release in February. Nike calls it an example of its commitment to inclusivity. But it should also help Nike reach more women—a group it has called a top business priority—and in particular Muslim women, who are part of rapidly growing base of potential customers.

Women wearing Nike's modest swimwear
Nike
Shoppers will get to choose from separates or a full-coverage version.

Globally, Muslims represent a large and increasingly valuable market. In 2018, total Muslim spend on clothing and footwear reached an estimated $283 billion, according to the State of the Global Islamic Economy report (pdf). By 2024, it projects the figure will grow to $402 billion.

Yet the world’s big athletic companies have historically underserved Muslim women athletes, who for religious reasons often don’t wear the same body-flaunting activewear as other customers. Nike’s new modest swimwear—which follows the launch in 2017 of its Pro Hijab, a product Moore also worked on—doubles down on the lucrative Muslim fashion market, and offers what Nike believes is a better performing product than its competitors.

According to Moore, other modest suits focus on the most affordable solutions for covering the body, not the most innovative ones. She observed and spoke to numerous athletes to find out what they needed but were missing. What they wanted, she said, was a swimsuit made of a lightweight fabric that wouldn’t get waterlogged, offered a woman a support bra and a way to manage her hair under the hijab. It also had to move easily through the water without being tight, to maintain its modesty, and be made of fabric that doesn’t cling to the body when wet. About 18 months and 55 sample suits later, Moore and Nike had their products.

The collection includes two options: One is a full-coverage swimsuit made up of a top and leggings. The other is a set of separate pieces, including a tunic, leggings, and hijab. To help water flow over the surface, the suits have “gills”—modeled after shark gills—that let water flow in at certain points, such as around the neck, and out at others, including behind the knees and at the ankles. The wrist and ankle cuffs are designed not to ride up or fill with water when you dive or jump into a pool. The bra cup draws on Nike’s years of experience making sports bras and also drains water. (Moore designed the sports bra Brandi Chastain famously revealed at the 1999 women’s World Cup). For the material, Moore chose a nylon-elastane blend she says is soft, light, and water repellant.

The swimsuits won’t come cheap. The separates, bought together, will total $188. The full-coverage version will retail for $600. “This is as innovative as any running jacket or outdoor waterproof jacket you can find out there,” Moore said. Much as Nike says it wants to help get all girls to swim, only so many will be able to afford those prices.

Either way, Moore says the audience is bigger than she initially thought. Anyone seeking sun protection might be interested, for example. Orthodox Jewish women, too, might like the modesty. In fact, anyone looking to swim without revealing their whole body is a potential customer.