Ottawa entrepreneur designs hijabs and turbans for the gym

Ottawa personal trainer Sarah Abood knows all about the sartorial struggles many of her clients with cultural and religious restrictions face while working out. That's why she's launched Thawrih.

Personal trainer Sarah Abood wants to give Muslims, Sikhs culturally appropriate gym wear

Thawrih founder Sarah Abood, 22, sports some of her new active wear that she says is both culturally appropriate and comfortable for people with cultural and religious restrictions to wear. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Ottawa personal trainer Sarah Abood knows all about the sartorial struggles many of her clients with cultural and religious restrictions face while working out. 

So earlier this year, the 22-year-old entrepreneur launched Thawrih, a workout gear company that offers hijabs, turbans and other gym clothes designed with the interests of Muslims and Sikhs in mind.

"The fitness industry is marginalized, and a lot of people feel misrepresented by [clothing companies]," Abood said.

"We wanted to help on a bigger scale. Rather than just giving them home workouts, we wanted to enable them to actually go to the gym and feel comfortable working out, feeling dry and cool."

Thawrih created to fill gaps

Thawrih, which means "revolutionary" in Arabic, launched in Jaunary, Abood said. The company began selling online just last month.

Traditional turbans and hijabs are made of either cotton or latex, said Abood, which hold in water and sweat. Many of the products currently available for workout purposes feel like having a swimming cap around your face, she said.

Thawrih's turbans and hijabs are instead made of a quick-dry material that whisks sweat away. Since some Muslims are uncomfortable showing skin, Abood said she's also created athletic wear that's long and loose on the body while remaining tight around the arms. 

Thawrih has a line of workout hijabs, turbans and tops that are made with bamboo and quick dry materials. (Zein Ahmed Photography)

She said confidence plays a big part when it comes to exercising, adding that she's trying to normalize people working out in religious gear.

"Because of the religious restrictions, it [once] wasn't a big thing for women to work out. But now the world is slowly changing, and it's becoming huge," she said.

Syrian newcomers making clothes

Finding workout clothes can be very difficult for many women, not just people of faith, said Chelby Daigle, editor-in-chief of Muslim Link, an Ottawa-based online news site.

Daigle said most workout gear sold in North America has a tighter fit and isn't always culturally appropriate.

"Definitely, finding the right kind of hijab or head covering that's going to be made out of material that's breathable can be very hard," Daigle said.

"You're not going to find that at a Lululemon."

Daigle said that culturally-appropriate workout clothes are available in Muslim-majority countries, but are much harder to find in North America.

Many people have to resort to importing them, she said, which can be costly.

Ships to 10 countries

Since Thawrih's launch, Abood has shipped products to 10 countries around the world, including the U.S., the United Kingdom, Denmark and Lebanon.

With a global population of nearly two billion Muslims and 30 million Sikhs, Abood said she saw an opening where multinational corporations haven't branched out.

The University of Ottawa student is also employing Syrian newcomers to help create her workout clothes. She said she currently employs one woman and has three more waiting to be hired once demand increases.

The women are supplied with sewing machines and paid per item. Depending on how fast they work, they can earn an average of $30 per hour, Abood said.

Products could be tailored for police officers

Abood is also hoping to work with Ottawa police as the force revises its inclusion policy.

Last month, Chief Charles Bordeleau tweeted that he planned to draft a hijab policy. While the current stance is that hijabs are allowed, Bordeleau said he wants the wording in the policy to be more explicit.

He told CBC News at the time that the force needs to ensure that whatever dress an officer wears is appropriate and safe for their job.

Abood said she's hoping to offer officers a sporty hijab or turban that will work with their needs and keep them comfortable.

She's reached out to the police chief, she said, and is still waiting to hear back.