CLEVELAND — Fitness clothing for females is ubiquitous. Yoga pants and workout tops with wicking fabric and special properties for all seasons are staples in women’s wardrobes. But the hijab seldom matches the outfit.
Ahmad Ghanem’s company, Veil, is aiming to change that.
“It’s 2015 and we have all these companies using performance material,” Ghanem said. “There’s nothing out there for Muslim women and I decided to take it on.”
The Cleveland businessman created the first water-repellent, climate-adapting “Cool Dry” hijab as the brand’s signature product.
Ghanem graduated with an associate’s degree in business this past summer from Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, but he credits the creation of Veil more to his business mindset than to his education.
“I had a lot of business ideas, but that’s what comes with being an entrepreneur,” said the 22-year-old, whose early ventures evolved from selling lemonade and t-shirts to trading electronics. “You get a new idea, not every day but every hour.”
Ghanem came up with the idea for Veil while browsing the crowd funding site Kickstarter. He came upon a campaign for men’s business wear made with materials to keep them dry and comfortable as they rush to meetings or to catch a train on their daily commute.
It got him thinking and prompted him to create his own Kickstarter.
The concept for the Cool Dry hijab was initially met with incredulity and not much excitement from friends and family, Ghanem said. But he developed the idea for nearly two years before launching the Kickstarter on May 20.
“I guess the reaction from everybody kind of proves how much this was needed,” Ghanem said.
The reaction: he raised nearly one-third of the Kickstarter goal one day after the campaign went live. Nearly 900 people funded the project. Their contributions eventually totaled $39,221, exceeding Veil’s Kickstarter goal of $5,000 by 784 percent.
By the end of the 30-day Kickstarter period on June 20, the company received 1,200 preorders for 2,100 hijabs.
Tehmina Cheema, a gold backer of the Kickstarter, said she appreciates Veil’s efforts to develop a hijab using innovative technology.
The hijab’s nylon fabric keeps wearers 7 to 10 degrees cooler than headscarves made of other materials. The nylon, which Ghanem found after testing hundreds of different samples, blocks 80 percent of heat and protects against UV rays.
“I am a hijab-wearing woman and I’ve been wearing hijab since I was in fifth grade,” Cheema said. “When I saw this, I wanted to support it.”
Cheema said Ghanem understands that women wear their hijabs with pride. She described Veil’s focus on comfort and its vision for products as “amazing.”
As an educator at an Islamic school in Oklahoma, Cheema sees the product as one her active female students could use.
The hijabs, which were entirely sourced and produced in the United States, arrived at Veil’s facilities this week, Ghanem said.
Rewards will be sent out to Kickstarter backers, and those who pre-ordered the climate-adaptable headscarf will receive them in two to three weeks. The hijabs will ship to 50 countries, including the United Kingdom, Singapore and Malaysia.
Ghanem said there have been hiccups in the process of rolling out the line — due in part to the large and unexpected volume of orders. Although the delivery date was pushed back, Ghanem said his customers were understanding.
Catering to consumers
Ghanem said Veil aims to bring a range of athletic apparel to the market so that hijabis can evade the challenge of shopping when a majority of the clothing is too tight or too short.
Ghanem said his mother, sisters and cousins who wear the hijab give him an understanding of and connection to it.
The Veil consumer base is diverse, with ages of customers ranging from 20 to 60 years old on average, Ghanem said. So, the primary target of the Veil line is not based on age. Rather, it’s aimed at women who feel the hijab restricts their physical activities.
“That’s the larger picture of the Veil brand — to give them the motivation and inspiration to do what they want,” he said.
Rahaf Khatib of Farmington Hills wears the hijab and has raced in three marathons, including the Detroit Free Press Marathon and the Chicago Marathon.
“I get glances and side-eye stares from non-Muslims whenever I’m at a race in June or July and it’s like 90 degrees outside,” Khatib said.
Others ask her how she’s able to run with her head, arms and legs covered. She says she’s just used to it.
And although she doesn’t have major gripes about her hijab, Khatib said it would be useful to have one that is light and breathable.
She commended Veil for providing a product that is virtually nonexistent on the market.
“I feel like if we had more options out there in terms of hijab and modest clothing, that would be very, very useful in getting more hijabis out there in the fitness world to work out,” the runner said. “My dream is to have major brands like Nike, Lulu, Athletica, Adidas, all those feature a hijabi.”
Ghanem said he wants Veil to be “the Nike of Muslim women.”
A growing market
To Ghanem, the booming Muslim consumer industry is an untapped resource.
Muslim consumers spent about $266 billion on clothing in 2013, the latest year for which data is available, according to the State of the Global Islamic Economy 2014-2015 report commissioned by Thomson Reuters and Dinar Standard.
Reuters estimates they will spend about $484 billion by 2019.
The trend coincides with the growth of Islam, which is on track to become the world’s largest religion. Pew Research Center recently estimated that the Muslim population will rise from 1.6 billion to nearly 3 billion by 2050.
Ghanem hopes Veil will grow simultaneously, ultimately becoming the go-to brand for Muslim women. Along with functionality, fashion will be a chief consideration in creating the line.
“We want to get into everything from hijabs to niqabs to sportswear to maybe swimsuits down the line,” he said. “But of course, we’re going to take everything slowly.”
A prototype from an upcoming line of modest sportswear will be ready for the Muslim American Society (MAS) and Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) convention held in Chicago in December, Ghanem said. Last year, 13,000 people attended the event.
Although that will be a prime business opportunity, Ghanem said making money isn’t his sole intent with Veil.
“I look into it as more of something that I’m really attached to,” he said.
His message to hijabis is to “keep being awesome,” and Ghanem cited them as one of his sources of motivation.
“I feel like it’s something I have to do, on my part, to help them,” he said of his business. “It gives me the bigger push.”