As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, I’ve seen the gamut of what women will wear to work out, ranging from their old corporate cotton T-shirts and oversized performance shirts and pants, to form-fitting athletic wear (think Lululemon, Athleta and Bandier to name a few). Recently, I was given the opportunity to test out some prototypes of a new modest activewear line called Sukoon (which means “relief” in Urdu/Hindi). With just a few days left on her Kickstarter campaign (ends June 30), founder Arshiya Kherani was eager to get her clothing into my hands so I could share my opinion with altMuslimah readers.
The Sukoon Signature Collection introduces activewear that should have always been part of the norm: hijabs and shirts that are high-performing, modest, and on trend.
Based in New York, Arshiya found a reason to produce performance activewear while maintaining modest and flattering cut lines. After running her first half-marathon in Washington, D.C., she realized the need for activewear hijabs, which eventually grew into the activewear shirts as well. So basically, after I spoke with Arshiya on the phone I thought, this I’ve got to see. (I tried on a short sleeve and long sleeve – Sukoon also makes hijabs, which I did not try).
The first thing I noticed was the incredibly soft fabric and very flattering asymmetrical cuts with mesh panels, which I LOVE. Sukoon uses merino wool, which normally one wouldn’t consider as an athletic fabric. I have worn merino wool baselayers running outdoors in the colder temps, and I was very pleased to see she did not opt for the standard poly-blend fabric, but rather took her research up a notch and selected this natural fabric. The keratin in the wool functions as a second skin and helps regulate body temperature, keeping the skin cool when you sweat, and warm when your body temperature drops. It’s probably one of the best things you can wear. You can read more about the fabric selection process here. It’s the perfect baselayer for runners in the winter, but I had never considered it for the summer.
Time to sweat!
So, I met up with my running partner and wore the short sleeve shirt on a run. She liked the cut and style – and I hadn’t told her anything about it beforehand. Ok, this is a good sign, I thought. It’s eye-catching! It performed great, was moisture-wicking, and kept me cool on a sticky Chicago summer afternoon.
But the real test comes in athletic performance. I lift weights and do a lot of high intensity interval training, so I need a shirt that moves with me. And Sukoon performed for me again. The mesh paneling is key, as I believe it allows more freedom of movement and a greater range of motion. Who wants to be restricted by their sleeves when they are working out? I suggested thumb-holes to Arshiya, those are always a plus in the winter, or when holding dumbbells.
I am really excited for Sukoon to kick off. But how will they survive the over-saturated athletic-wear market, I wondered? Women tend to stick with what is easiest, and for many that may be buying oversized. Arshiya points out that “buying an oversized long sleeved shirt usually means that the neckline is too big/deep and the sleeves are too long. I find myself constantly rolling up the sleeves and pulling the shirt up so that you can’t see my sports-bra. It’s so distracting and takes so much away from focusing on the workout itself.” Sukoon takes this into account and uses standard women sizing so the cuts are flattering yet modest. With high-quality fabrics, this combination is a win-win!
I also adore her a-ha moment. As a fellow entrepreneur, I wanted to know what motivates her. Why push for athletic hijabs and shirts? Who is your market? “Not to be overly dramatic,” Arshiya says, “but the first time I went for a run wearing that prototype, I literally had tears of happiness in my eyes when I walked back into my apartment. We had been working on Sukoon for 6 months at that point, and I had tried SO MANY failed prototypes before then. I will never forget that run – it was the middle of January and close to zero degrees, but I have never felt so inspired. It stayed on beautifully and I didn’t have to adjust it even once. I kept touching it to make sure it was still there because it was so comfortable that I couldn’t even feel it. I ran my fastest miles that day, and every time I tried that prototype or an iteration of it after that day, I believed more and more that we are really building something here.”
That’s the thing about entrepreneurs. In order for your business to succeed, you need to believe your product or service is the solution to the problem at hand. If you don’t believe in it, no one else will.
For Arshiya it’s not just about looking hip and modest while working out, it is about performance, which ties into the quality of her workout and overall experience. “Every time I feel like giving up on Sukoon, I think about how the quality of my workouts has improved since I started wearing Sukoon prototypes and how countless women – many of them my friends – would benefit from our collection.” I love her mindset and her innovative approach to what is definitely an iterative process. Continual improvement will bring her company success.
That’s where you come in! There is still time to join in this amazing Kickstarter campaign! Arshiya and Anum have come so far together, and now it is time for you, the exercise-loving, AltMuslimah reading woman to put Sukoon to the test and get the most out of your workouts and know you are supporting a fantastic cause. You can contribute as little as $1 with the activewear hijab starting at a pledge of $40. Be a part of a movement that redefines activewear for an entire generation of women.
Ayesha Akhtar, MPH, CPT is the Community Education Coordinator for the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago. In addition, she lives out her passion as an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and trains clients privately through her company Stronger Fitter Faster. An avid runner herself, Ayesha is a Running Ambassador for Every Mother Counts, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing maternal mortality worldwide. She has written for numerous blogs and magazines including AltMuslimah (of course!), The Skinless Project, Azizah Magazine, Chicago Crescent, Halal Consumer Magazine. Ayesha lives in the Chicago metro area with her husband and two sons.