In 1999, while seeking a graduate project idea at the Design
Academy of Eindhoven, Cindy van den Bremen found a problem-solving
The Dutch Commission of Equal Treatment had recently ruled that
high schools could prohibit Muslim girls from wearing head coverings
in gym class. Girls were advised to wear turtlenecks teamed with
swim caps. But some were ignoring the sartorial advice, preferring
instead to skip gym all together.
At about that time, the Dutch were beginning to become
disillusioned with multiculturalism - a trend that was to intensify
in the next few years with the death of maverick anti-immigrant
politician Pim Fortuyn and the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by
a radical Dutch Islamist.
For Ms. van den Bremen, the phys-ed class controversy offered a
means to marry her political sense of injustice with her
professional expertise. "I realized that if the hijabs did not look
traditional, but hip and trendy, they could possibly change
prejudice into some sort of admiration," says the young Dutch
Within months, the "capster" was born, and quickly blossomed into
a business. In four styles designed for tennis, skating, aerobics,
and outdoor sports, van den Bremen's head coverings were sleek,
safe, and - in the words of a local Islamic cleric - "Islamically
Even an elderly man at her graduation show who told her he didn't
like the hijab at all, said he did like her designs. "This made me
realize even more that the social problem with the acceptance of the
hijab was not about the girls being covered, but the way they are
covered," says van den Bremen.
Initially, she expected that she'd be done with the capsters
after graduation. But the capsters' popularity has grown steadily,
and grateful feedback she receives and the clamor for more such
products has encouraged her to expand her small business operation.
For Farah Azwai, an athletic undergraduate at the American
Intercontinental University in London, who started wearing the hijab
at age 16, the capster was a relief.
"Before I had the capsters, I tried a number of things - I used
to wear a bandanna and tried fixing my hijab in different ways but
it wasn't very practical and I always had problems," says Ms. Azwai,
who bought the "skate" and "outdoors" models online. "The fabric and
style is very modern, it totally suits my style - it goes well with
my sports clothes, with brands like Nike, Adidas and Pineapple."
Van den Bremen's business expansion plans include increasing
production of the four current lines to keep up with demand as well
as new lines of "breathable" capsters for tropical climates.
She also has designs on promoting intercultural dialogue. …