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As they partner with Nike to launch the brands first full coverage swimwear range, we chat to Lamisa Khan, Zeinab Saleh and Sara Gulamali about how they created a global movement that defies outdated stereotypes and champions diversity.
Muslim Sisterhood is an art movement co-founded by photographers and artists Lamisa Khan, Zeinab Saleh and Sara Gulamali.
What began life as a way of expressing themselves and sharing their art on Instagram – they were seeking to represent a variety of young Muslim women in London, Khan tells me – is now a global community of Muslim women all over the world.
This month, they’ve partnered with Nike Swim to launch the brand’s first ever full coverage performance swimwear ‘designed to empower women in the water’. Expect tunic tops, swim leggings and workout hijabs that can be mixed and matched for varied coverage – as well as promising to offer a full range of motion on the water – created out of a belief that women of all backgrounds, body types, abilities and aspirations deserve the opportunity to participate comfortably and confidently in water sports.
Keen to read a little more about the collaboration and what’s next for the Muslim Sisterhood trio and movement? Keep scrolling.
When was the idea for Muslim Sisterhood born? And how did you bring the idea to life?
Initially, Muslim Sisterhood was a photo series seeking to represent a variety of young Muslim women in London, Khan explains.
“We never thought it would become a collective, or even that it would have such a reach. The project kind of decided by itself what its aim was organically, Alhamdulillah,” she goes on.
“For us now, the aim is for young Muslim girls to be able to see other people who look like them and live like them and for them to think, wow that’s cool.”
“We’ve been able to build an incredible network and family of Muslim women internationally whose talent knows no bounds and who support and uplift us continually,” she shares.
How did the collective begin?
Good question. “We were just three girls who became friends over the internet, had great discussions and a passion for photography, community and fashion,” explains Khan.
“We were all craving some sort of sisterhood.”
“The collective started out as us just taking pictures of our friends on disposable cameras in places like Brick Lane, Brixton and Shepherds Bush, places with large Muslim communities that were central to our Muslim identity and were sadly falling victim to gentrification,” she continues.
“We didn’t really know what to do with the images and while looking for models in a WhatsApp group made up of Black Muslim University students in the UK, we were encouraged to set up our Instagram.”
“The rest is history.”
Explain the Nike x Muslim Sisterhood collaboration?
“Swimming is often an activity that Muslim women are excluded from because of our modesty requirements,” shares Khan. “So, we wanted to create a campaign that was inclusive of different ages and shows that anyone can swim and enjoy the water.”
“It was about capturing the feeling of freedom and joy in the water in a way that feels both aspirational and attainable.”
“I’ve never really learnt how to swim because of not ever having the right swimwear and it’s something that’s held me back from enjoying the water,” shares Khan. “Having swimwear that meets your needs personally as well as on a practical and technical level is encouraging. It makes staying active and having fun easier,” she explains.
Gulamali agrees, adding: “Like so many other Muslim women, accessibility when it comes to swimming has meant we have yet to reach our full potential in regards to our relationship with the water. Having a collection such as this available means that we can allow women of all ages within our community to comfortably explore the sport, without feeling limited in any way.”
Saleh has always been a swimmer, but had to make do with wearing leggings and long sleeve tops with her swimsuit. “Some of the leisure centre staff weren’t always understanding and there was a worry that they wouldn’t let us swim because of our makeshift swimming outfits,” she shares. “It feels really fulfilling to work on this collection which makes swimming easier for future generations.”
What more do they think could be done societally to encourage more inclusion of Muslim and modest women in sports and creative spaces?
“With all kinds of diversity and inclusion initiatives, it’s really just about allowing and enabling a community to do what serves them best rather than dictating it. We often talk about how we should be including women from ‘marginalised’ communities in spaces of sports and creativity, but these spaces aren’t often built with us in mind and sometimes we already exist and nobody is really looking hard enough.”
“For sports, the bare minimum is having accessible female only classes with a female instructor who is culturally aware. Having a kit that meets your modesty requirements- whatever that might look like, and a space to break for prayer is key. I think there’s an assumption that the creative industry is super progressive but we think it needs to be shaken up.”
“It’s still very much white people making decisions around things they don’t really understand rather than hiring Black and brown people to do the job properly.”
“And when it comes to creative events, having halal or vegetarian catering and non-alcoholic drinks is essential. It’s really weird that drinking alcohol is central to being a part of creative spaces, Muslims don’t need drink to turn up, Allah blessed us with the vibes anyway Alhamdulillah.
“It’s not enough to have us just in front of the camera to fill quota boxes; we should be behind the camera and making decisions because that’s how you create authentic campaigns and projects and avoid making embarrassing mistakes,” shares Khan.
Nike Swim Victory range is available at Nike.com.