Sportswear tailored to a cultural fit

Throughout the Muslim world, and beyond, women like to dress both for comfort and according to their moral code and while this choice is largely linked to religion and culture, a woman’s personal preferences will always play a large role in what she wears and how she wears it.

Yoga teacher, Joumana Saber, from Dubai’s ‘The Yoga Room‘ says ‘I’ve seen different religious women cover up in different ways as well.”

“Obviously it depends on the region you come from and what your faith is, you know in Islam there are different sects and in these sects women wear the hijab in different ways, also if you’re from a different country that’s also a reflection of how you wear the hijab.” 

Dubai-designer Sarah Sillis identified this need for individual expression in exercise wear and her modest sportswear line Saqueena is proving popular on the market. 

Her customer Khadijatou El Hamed, says “Even though I don’t wear a headscarf, I am quite conservative, so when I heard about Sarah and her label I thought, finally, I can wear something I am comfortable in and I can go out for walks whenever I want.”

A Belgian national, Sillis started wearing the headscarf a few years ago. She found that women who wanted to dress conservatively but also be active were finding it hard to find appropriate clothing to workout in.

“We want to empower you girls to go out and do some sports activities,” says Sillis, “which is good for your health and at the same time it also builds your community and you feel comfortable.”

Yoga teacher Nea Ferrier agrees that comfort is key and for her variation of Ashtanga yoga, this needs to allow great freedom of movement.

“I’ve taught in quite a few different countries, in Australia, in China, Japan, Russia, Turkey and now Dubai and I’d have to say what people wear doesn’t vary that much, people wear fitted clothing, normally, particularly for Ashtanga yoga.”

Her colleague Joumana Saber agrees.

“There isn’t an outfit really, but obviously something you can easily move in,” says Saber, “something that you feel comfortable in because you will break a good sweat so you don’t want something that will feel heavy as well.”

Image Credit: Saqueena

Sillis uses a variety of fabrics in her designs including cotton, lycra and viscose, with items selling for between 450 and 500 dirhams.

Customer Sabreen Mahmoud appreciates that the swimwear range comes in two pieces with a turban-style cap.

“She uses summery colours and the fabric is nice and not cheap quality so it makes you feel good and encourages you to do more sports, and to go out with friends and family to water-parks, like Wild Wadi, without having to be constrained to go on women-only days,” says Mahmoud.

For Sillis what started out as a swimwear line, has now become a sportswear range which includes garments that can be worn for badminton, tennis and golf.

Now the designer hopes to expand her line even further by breaking into other markets and selling her items online to customers further afield.

Originally run in Emirates News, 22 June 2013.

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