In the Netherlands the hijab (headscarf) has been the subject of many discussions. The question remains whether it is representative, safe to wear during sports activities or opposed to women’s rights.
Many native Dutch people feel that wearing the hijab symbolizes oppression of women. In the Western world, wearing a hijab was in vogue in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s. Since the arrival of Muslim women in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, due to the immigration of foreign labourers, the hijab has become a taboo.
The Dutch designer Cindy Van Den Bremen, represents the brains behind Capsters. The history of Capsters starts in the graduation project of Van den Bremen at the Design Academy Eindhoven back in 1999. The concept was based on the idea to give Muslim girls and their gym teachers in the Netherlands an alternative to the traditional hijab to wear during gym classes.
The designs were realized in close co-operation with Muslim girls and an Imam. Due to positive publicity, orders started coming in and soon the brand Capsters® was born.
In 2001 the first sports series were launched and has eversince been sold worldwide. Not only have the Muslim women showed interest, but other women and even men as well. For several years now Capsters have served an international and diverse clientele.
Hijab, the Stigmatised Characteristic!
Cindy discovered that a lot of prejudices were based on negative reports about Islam published in the media. She saw the hijab as one of the most stigmatised characteristics of Muslim life in the Netherlands.
"In the Netherlands there is a Committee for Equal Treatment: de Commissie Gelijke Behandeling" she says.
"They handle possible discrimination cases. In the past, a lot of Muslim women have called for interference when they felt discriminated against for wearing hijab. A few years ago this committee agreed that nobody should be denied the right to wear a hijab."
Soon after, this same committee decided that wearing a headscarf was hazardous during sports activities in schools. Wearing a swimming cap with a high turtleneck was suggested instead. Muslim girls alarmed at this new directive began to excuse themselves from PE, and some, even, took to playing truant.
"The image of a veiled woman in the Netherlands stands for a not very well-educated, oppressed and timid woman. During my research I spoke to a lot of young Muslim women who are actually the opposite: very bright, independent and outspoken!"
A Design Challenge
All this added up to a design challenge for Cindy: creating a safe solution that complies with the Islamic regulations. "I had to design a new cover that is safe and at the same time covers the head, hair and neck. I had to be aware not to design an existing solution, such as a hood or a cap" she said.
A lot of the Muslim girls that Cindy spoke to in the course of her research complained about the fact that they constantly felt that they have got to defend their choice of wearing a hijab.
"I think it should be a personal decision whether you want to cover yourself or not. People cover themselves for different reasons mostly for protection, whether it is the cold, the wind or unwanted looks, it shouldn’t really matter, as long as it is your own choice!" she added.
"When I started my research I did not know I was going to design sports hijabs. I just wanted to do something with the heavy loaded subject of veiling in the West, to see if I, as a designer, could change something that was actually a cultural, political and social problem."
|Another Hijab design.|
The Way of Wearing Hijab
Cindy realized that the image of the hijab has not developed since the arrival of the Muslim community in the late 60's and early 70's. The immigrant wives wore the headscarf often as a sign of culture and tradition. Their daughters were born and raised in the Netherlands.
Growing up in two different cultures made them curious to find out about their roots. Some started reading the Qur'an, which most of their illiterate mothers have never done. They interpret the hijab as a symbol of their descent and wear it with pride.
Cindy’s creative instincts have led her to conclude that the appearance of the traditional hijab worn by Muslim girls does not impart this message; "Besides this aesthetic problem I discovered a practical problem related to sports in schools. A court case decided that for safety reasons a gym teachers could expel girls wearing a hijab from their gym classes.
The solution offered by the Committee of Equal Treatment was that girls should wear a turtleneck and swim cap instead. This did not solve the problem: the girls skipped gym classes because they did not want to feel humiliated."
It was at this time that Cindy realized the whole issue was not about covering but about the way the girls cover themselves. And that problem could be solved by a designer. "So I started to talk with girls and Islamic organizations to investigate the requirements for a new sports hijab. After I had made the sketches and the styling I went back to the girls to ask for feedback.
This was really an interesting part of the design process: I do not have the 'wearers' knowledge'. In order to fulfill their wishes, I needed feedback. Together we adjusted some designs: replaced a zipper by Velcro or changed the material into a more flexible one, to avoid any harsh noise to the ear. I also had my designs approved by an Imam, since he is the person the girls go to, to ask for advice on certain matters."
Being 'Hip and Trendy'
In addition to all the functional requirements Cindy wanted to add a solution for the social problem as well. She realised that if the hijabs do not look traditional but 'hip & trendy' they will possibly change prejudice into some sort of admiration.
|"A lot of girls that are born in the Netherlands but raised with the culture and values of their immigrant parents' origin, find themselves struggling with their identity."|
"One of the confirmations that I have got on that thought was from a 70 year old man, visiting the graduation show: 'I do not like hijabs at all, but I do like your designs'.
This made me realize even more that the social problem with the acceptance of hijabs is not about the girls getting covered, but the way they are covered.
Last but not least, to make the integration more visible Cindy asked herself not only 'what does a hijab mean for Muslims' but also 'what can the hijab be for non-Muslims'.
The answer to that was simple: "it could be just a functional or aesthetic head-accessory. The only thing I had to do was to design something that should meet both worlds, and that is exactly what I mean by integration." While designing the sports-covers Cindy did not only focus on the target group, but she designed a head-cover that is still suitable for Islamic purposes as well. She created a line of sports accessories that could be worn by anyone, regardless of their choice of function, religion or even gender. She made four types of sports-covers.
Cindy has paid attention to the different colours, materials and shapes used for clothing concerning a particular sport. She says "For example, for the tennis model, I looked at the traditional tennis clothing for women, which is mainly the short skirt. A convinced Muslim woman would never wear such a skirt. But since it’s so characteristic for the Tennis sport I assimilated it in the collar."
Cindy needed feed back on the choice of designs, materials and colours. "I went to an Imam to have my designs judged against Islamic regulations. He was very enthusiastic since I was not a Muslim but yet interested in solving the problems concerning the hijab."
The project of Capsters did not finish after graduation. Due to all the publicity and all the positive reactions from mostly high-educated, emancipated women all over the world Cindy realized there was a market; "2 years later I introduced the brand of Capsters through the internet URL: www.capsters.com. I still receive enthusiastic e-mails from women and girls who thank me for the simple yet marvellous solution. The feedback I get confirms my thoughts and designs."
Cindy's choice to focus on this subject was not only to solve the problem in gym classes but also to start a new awareness by the Western world that a lot of women choose the right to cover themselves. "In the Netherlands the concept that ‘all girls wear hijabs because their parents tell them to', and that ‘all women wear them because their husbands tell them to’ has grown outdated" she said.
"To emphasize their individuality they find comfort in wearing hijab, which symbolizes their religion and beliefs. A lot of women experience wearing the hijab as an exercise of freedom. They can interact and integrate without losing their own values or being judged by their own community. Some Dutch people feel there’s no need to wear a hijab since those women are living in the Netherlands. But I believe that one creates one's own needs. It’s just a way of acceptance…"
Cindy Van Den Bremen has published the book of her research titled Hoofddoeken (hijabs). It is available in bookstores throughout the Netherlands for € 12,50 and published by Bulaaq. It is a compilation of quotes of confident Muslim women and journalists and beautiful pictures by Giti Entezami, of different shapes, colours of hijabs worn in the Netherlands.
A selection of scaled pictures and quotes from the book are on exhibition, travelling through the Netherlands. The opening of the exhibition is scheduled to have a lecture and a panel on the topic of veiling. Years after starting this project it's still developing in a much broader perspective than just the designs.
Related Links:It Trembles Me! Then, I Put the Hijab On Again…
Muslim Athletes Shine in Hijab
Hijab: What's It All About?
Hijab: Cultural or Religious?