For many entrepreneurs, business has no religion, and as the Muslim-American community grows and becomes increasingly visible, some non-Muslims have identified hijabi women as a potentially profitable market demographic and have found ways to cater to their unique needs.
Take for example Josie Lyons, who works in the fitness industry. When she and her husband began thinking of uses for their unfinished outdoor guest house, their first thought was to renovate the space into a usable apartment and then rent it out.
“We were trying to figure out something for me to make money while staying home,” said Lyons, mother to two young girls.
However, after a chat with a family friend, Lyons and her husband changed their minds and their renovation plans and are now working to convert their unused space into a private fitness studio for women.
“I got a call from a friend who is Muslim and wears a hijab. She was telling me how she and her friends had a really hard time finding places to work out where they could uncover comfortably,” she said. “She was asking me if I knew anyone in her area who had space to do a group fitness class where ladies wouldn’t be seen by men. That got me thinking that of course they need this. They have every right to be able to get a great workout in an environment where they feel comfortable.”
Lyons, who lives in Connecticut and is not an adherent to Islam, admitted she’d never before considered the plight of covered Muslim women who want to exercise in a gym setting but without the constrictions of hijab, which she said might be detrimental to them while working out.
“I would never recommend a women wear a hijab while doing one of my Spin classes,” she said.
Lyons said she and her husband are working to convert their space into a sort of mini-gym, complete with an array of scheduled, daily fitness classes and a space for individual exercise. Though she admits the area won’t be as large as most gyms, she said the ladies who make use of her facility can rest assured they will not be seen uncovered by men as the space is located above her garage and she will control entry and exit access while classes are in session.
As a certified and experienced Spin instructor, Lyons has taught exercise classes for years and would continue to do so in her own facility.
To diversify her fitness offerings, she is also pursuing certifications as a Pilates teacher and as a personal trainer.
Lyons said she has already contacted mosques in her area to guage interest and has heard from some women there who would be interested in attending her classes. She said many of the women said, despite the ever-increasing number of at-home workouts and free online exercise options, they enjoy attending a gym with other people and find the social setting more motivating. Unfortunately, many of them said they have avoided the gym because it’s difficult to find the proper exercise attire or they simply don’t like the feel of working out with a covered head.
Lyons said a space such as hers would solve that problem not only for Muslim women who don the hijab but also for Orthodox Jewish women who observe head coverings and modest clothing, as well.
“They can come in, take off their scarves and wear their cute workout outfits without worrying about who is going to see them,” she said. “It’s a need and something I would love to do.”
Other businesses may be thinking along the same line as Lyons, including a Denver, Colo., hair salon which has outfitted one of its stations to conceal hijab-wearing Muslim women who come in for a cut. The locally owned business constructed two small walls on both sides of one of its chairs and installed a curtain in the front to allow easy access.
The result is a completely private hair-cutting station where covered women can feel at ease with no worries of unwanted stares.