Earlier this January, Nike released a new athletic hijab. These lightweight hijabs were designed specifically for Muslim female athletes, and Nike certainly became the largest company by far to design a product specifically for that demographic. With the inauguration of Donald Trump as president in the same month, we have seen many companies make a concerted effort to promote equality and inclusiveness through both their product design and advertising. At this Super Bowl alone, Coca-Cola’s minute-long “America the Beautiful” advertisement overtly highlighted the diversity that makes America great, while Budweiser’s minute-long ad detailed the path filled with hardships and hatred that founder Adolphus Busch faced when he came to the US as an immigrant in the late 1800s. Coming on the heels of Trump’s immigration ban, these ads and Nike’s hijab did not seem coincidental. While it is not necessarily “counterculture” to be inclusive, we have seen a much larger push by big companies lately to promote, design, and advertise for all types of people, which we found surprising because of the political undertones it has that could (for some reason) anger some existing Nike customers. While some may argue that those should be customers that Nike has no problem losing, no company wants to anger a large portion of their base and companies have been wary to do so in the past. As Michael Jordan once famously said when refusing to endorse either candidate during a tightly contested 1990 Senate race in NC, “Republicans wear shoes, too.”
For our counterculture headphones, we designed sound-canceling headphones that can be worn by anyone. The counterculture aspect is that they are specifically designed for those who are often forgotten in the headphone-making process. Our redesigned headphones aim to remove any restrictions that those who want to listen to music might face when buying headphones. These headphones ear parts similar to normal headphones, but they have no cumbersome over-the-head strap that often restricts who can wear the headphones. While our prototype has the electronics built in to make them functional, our ideal final product would use Bluetooth and would have some grippy material and ear clips to keep the headphones more stable on the ears. Originally motivated by the Nike hijab, we built in small holes around the edge of the earphones that would allow the wearer to sew these ear pieces into a piece of clothing–we saw this as a complement to the Nike hijab, as wearers could seamlessly sew these headphones into their training hijabs and not have to worry about dealing with headphones.
We researched both the need for this type of product and the regulations for this product that would make it religiously acceptable. One hijab-wearing blogger wrote, “I apparently have a tiny ear-hole because I can never keep my earphones in. When I’m cleaning and don’t feel like talking to anyone, I pop one of my caps on and it keeps my hair out of my way AND holds my earphones against my ear.” While she has come up with a way to wear earbuds, we think out headphones offer a better solution to that problem. Another Muslim blogger wrote about innovations that need to be made for hijab-wearers, stating, “ You can’t properly wear earphones. Before putting your Hijab on you have to plug them in and make sure they are placed correctly. When you want to take them off you have to pull the cords in order to get them out. On top of that, the extra fabric that was needed to cover them is now hanging there and looking all crazy-ish.” Our product offers a high-quality, wireless solution. In our research about the religious implications of these headphones, one important point that kept coming up is the need for “direct contact with the ear without exposing…skin, ears, or hair,” which we aimed to solve by allowing the headphones to be woven into the fabric itself. Something along these lines has been done before: Adlina Anis’ Ninja Echo, an earphone-friendly hijab, although this product is an extension that allows one to insert and wear earbuds without the ears being seen, as opposed to a redesigned headset altogether.
Despite our research, we weren’t totally sure about all of the religious regulations that would or would not make these headphones acceptable, but they certainly extend past just being used for hijabs. They can be sewn into winter hats or just about any piece of headwear as well. Besides just hijabs, these headphones are great for those with hairstyles that make normal headphones unusable, those who wear other religious headwear like turbans and yarmulkes, and those who wear bigger hats, but could also be used by anyone who wants a more compact version of headphones that aren’t just earbuds.
While we would want to advertise these headphones in a way that promote inclusivity, we are wary of coming off as insincere or commercializing a true problem. While some companies (like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Budweiser) have advertised tastefully, we saw just last week with Pepsi how negative the response can be when advertising in a socially deaf way.