In Minneapolis, East African girls level the playing field with culturally sensitive uniforms
Girls in stylish athletic wear walk the runway as the sounds of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry blare from speakers. The crowd claps and cheers as the young models strike poses with basketballs, lacrosse sticks and boxing gloves. Finally, the big reveal: the Lady Warriors community traveling basketball team takes the stage in their cardinal red uniforms.
This is no ordinary fashion show. The models are East African, primarily Muslim girls living in Minnesota who designed their own culturally sensitive sportswear that lets them move freely without worrying about tripping on a long, flowing dress or having a head scarf come undone at a crucial point.
“The girls for years have been telling us, ‘We would like clothing. We would like clothing,’” said Chelsey Thul, a lecturer in kinesiology at the University of Minnesota who helped lead the two-year project.
The girls quickly learned that traditional dress and basketball don’t mix well, said Thul, who was a volunteer research consultant to the program.
The answer, Thul said, was a functional yet modest uniform “so they could do that between-the-legs dribble, make that three-pointer, and not have clothing be a barrier.”
Sertac Sehlikoglu, a social anthropologist working on leisure, sports and the Muslim communities at the University of Cambridge, noted that Iran has been developing culturally appropriate female sportswear for years. She agreed with the Minnesota project’s organizers that the girls’ designs could catch on in other cities with large Muslim populations.
The girls came up with two designs. One teal-and-black uniform with stripes — good for all sports including swimming — features leggings and a knee-length tunic. Both the everyday active wear and the basketball team’s bright red outfit include a tight black headpiece. Arms, legs, hair and neck are all covered.
Style was important, said Amira Ali, 12, who helped with the design.