Hannah MitchellBASE Digital Writer Hannah is a Lake District-based journalist and all-round outdoor lass with a particular fondness for rock faces.
Amira Patel is a firm believer that if you can’t see something, you should go create it. After discovering her own passion for the outdoors three years ago, she founded hiking and adventure group the Wanderlust Women in a bid to share that passion and improve the representation of Muslim women in the outdoors. From its humble beginnings with a few friends gathering for walks in the Lake District, the organisation has since grown into an international community, facilitating outdoor activities which help women discover or re-ignite their skills and confidence in a safe and supportive space. It’s not just an organisation, but a sisterhood.
Around the same time that Amira started her journey into the outdoors, she made the decision to wear the niqab(veil). As a Muslim, wearing the niqab symbolised a personal act of worship for Amira. ‘The niqab to me is liberating and dignifying,’ she says. ‘It gives me strength and freedom.’ These sentiments, echoed by many other women, challenge common misconceptions surrounding the hijab and niqab – and challenging misconceptions is something Amira is particularly good at.
Venturing into the mountains, Amira quickly realised that balancing the modesty of the niqab or hijab with functional, outdoor wear presented a challenge to Muslim women. A lack of availability of modest outdoor wear was hampering women’s ambitions to explore and experience the benefits of being outside. An idea was born.
The niqab to me is liberating and dignifying. It gives me strength and freedom.
‘When I started hiking, I didn’t really know where it was going to take me, I just went out because I needed to heal and find myself again. I was like, you know what, let’s go hiking, it was a self-discovery journey,’ Amira explains. ‘Along the way, I realised that I didn’t really have the correct kit, and also that there wasn’t even kit available that was suitable for me. I was hiking and trying to be modest at the same time, wearing my normal niqab and I’d be really sweaty, or in the wind it’d be flapping everywhere! I had all these ideas and thoughts about how it’d be so cool to have something that was modest and practical in the outdoors… But it wasn’t something that I thought would actually happen.’
It was a chance interaction at an outdoor industry event that saw Amira’s dream begin to actualise. A shared belief in the project set the design process in motion.
‘I was just chatting to one of the experts at Trekmates, and I mentioned my idea to have an outdoor-specific, weatherproof niqab and hijab. And she just said: Yeah, it’s possible,’ remembers Amira.
‘We often feel like we’ve got limits, but those limits sort-of go away when we feel like someone’s listening. With all the misconceptions that are attached to the veil, the hijab and niqab, it makes it a lot more difficult to bring these visions to life. Sometimes it just takes one person to believe in it.’
With support from Trekmates’ Head Designer, Emma Wakeley, Amira liaised closely with design placement student Tabitha Day. Tabitha made the initial patterns and prototypes for Amira to test, tweaking and refining the design based on her feedback.
‘The all-female Trekmates design team has more than 40 years combined experience in the outdoor industry,’ says Emma. ‘We’ve all seen the challenges women face in accessing the correct outdoor kit over the years in a male-dominated environment.’
We often feel like we’ve got limits, but those limits sort-of go away when we feel like someone’s listening.
Creating an outdoor-specific hijab and niqab was uncharted terrain, presenting a number of challenges and requiring extensive testing and prototyping in order to make something that would be both lightweight and breathable, as well as durable and waterproof.
‘The main challenge was obviously that there was nothing like this before,’ says Amira. ‘How can we, first of all, make something that’s never been made before? Is it going to work? Are the materials going to be ok?’
And so, with the help of the industry expertise and technical knowledge of Trekmates, the Wanderlust Women set out to test the first iterations of the products. Braving all kinds of weather and different environments, they pursued the perfect fit and functionality for Amira’s idea, and reported back to the design team.
‘The fabrics that we used in the Hijabs were ones that we use in many other Trekmates technical glove, hat and gaiter products,’ explains Emma. ‘So we not only have lab test reports to show the performance of the fabric when new, but also have the history of longer term performance through years of end use testing.
‘The main challenge for us as a team was understanding the specific needs of the customer, as none of us had personal experience of wearing the hijab and the modesty requirements that we needed to consider. In the case of the Niqab for example, it was important to get the correct balance of enough drape around the face so the Niqab hung correctly to preserve modesty and allow free flow of air without being so loose as to cause it to get in the way when in use. So it was really important for us to work closely with Amira to gain that understanding to apply it to the design process.’
To widespread praise among the wider outdoors community, the final designs launched in March 2023, including the Amira niqab, Haya hijab and a silk hijab liner. The combination of high-performance materials and a carefully considered design that allows women to feel confident and comfortable in the outdoors is a huge advancement in inclusivity in outdoor clothing.
‘Everyone should have access to the correct protective clothing and accessories to keep them safe on their adventures,’ says Emma. ‘Supporting women of all faiths and backgrounds is something we will continue to champion over future seasons with new product launches.’
And as Amira firmly believes, there will always be room for progression. With ongoing development and feedback from the women wearing her designs, she hopes to continue the evolution of the technical hijab and niqab, improving functionality and meeting the specific needs of the community.
‘It feels surreal to finally hold it in my hands. But it’s still a journey. It’s just part of any process when you’re making something new, you have to have the mentality that it’s not always going to be right the first time,’ says Amira. ‘But for now I feel like we’ve done everything we can to make it suitable. Seeing people wearing it out and about and in stores will definitely get me really emotional. It’ll be a really proud moment.’
The Amira Niqab and Haya Hijab
The Amira niqab is made from a soft, wind-proof stretch polyester shell with a durable water repellent finish. Its high-density polyester mesh panel allows ease of breathing and ventilation during activity, whilst the Haya hijab features strategic waterproof panelling and a softshell lower section for breathability around the neck. Both the hijab and niqab have fastenings to prevent them from blowing around in windy conditions, and are cut to maintain a modest appearance, whilst allowing for hair to be tied up and covered comfortably underneath.
This article first appeared in issue #10 of BASE Magazine. Subscribe for FREE to get your copy!