Model Halima Aden Designed Masks for Hijab-Wearing Frontline Workers amid Coronavirus Pandemic
"There are so many hijab-wearing women working in healthcare so really providing them a piece that allows them to be the best version of themselves while working is important," Halima Aden tells PEOPLE. "I wanted them to feel seen and heard during this unprecedented time."
Halima Aden is introducing an inclusive version of summer’s must-have accessory.
The 22-year-old model and activist teamed up with AI tech company Anywear earlier this month to design hijabs and turbans that come with matching face coverings for frontline healthcare workers amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Sports Illustrated model's line includes tetra turbans ($52 each) in an assortment of pastel color-ways (plus one emerald and pink sequin design!), eight variations of hijab-and-mask sets ($45 each) and two face mask bundles ($40 each). According to the online product description, Aden’s designs feature “a built-in extender to clasp comfortably behind the head.”
And as a former hospital worker (who in 2019 became the first model to wear a hijab and burkini in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit), Aden says the Banding Together Project hit close to home.
"Having worked in a hospital cleaning patient rooms, I really wanted to donate my time. Seeing photos of frontline workers with bruised faces and even blood behind their ears – all from wearing masks - was heartbreaking," the Somali-American celeb tells PEOPLE exclusively. "Knowing the struggles that women who wear the hijab go through —having to privately go to the bathroom to remove their masks from under their hijab — it was important that these face coverings clasped in back over the hijab like a headband."
Aden explains that "every minute counts" for frontline workers — especially during a global health crisis — which is why she designed a product that fits securely over the face and saves time by eliminating the need for privacy, "as one doesn’t need to remove their hijab in order to take off the face covering since it’s not under their scarf and behind the ears."
"I really wanted this to be hassle free for hijab wearing women," she adds. "But, more than anything, I wanted them to be comfortable. Part of the job of frontline workers is making their patients feel comfortable and in order for them to best do that, I felt they needed to be comfortable themselves."
With summer in full swing, the 2019 Breakthrough Model of the Year intentionally chose breathable fabrics in a wide variety of "calm and tranquil" colors to offset the stress of working in COVID units. Reflecting on her own experience, and the struggle of finding a scarf that matched her scrubs, Aden tells PEOPLE she also wanted designs that felt fashion-forward.
"If we can take just a little pressure off of these women who are working so hard and make them feel good during this uncertain time, that’s a win in my book," she shares.
The collaboration — which Anywear co-founder Emily Shippee called a "no-brainer" —puts inclusivity at the forefront. Both Shippee and Aden agree that this should be the norm for fashion brands in 2020.
"Now more than every inclusivity should no longer even be a topic of discussion, it is a given important and essential aspect of every business in order to have success or mean anything in this world," Shippee tells PEOPLE. "All of the items are made to order because we are striving to establish eliminating textile waste in the industry, which contributes to climate change."
While Aden adds that, growing up, she didn't realize her modeling potential because she never saw women who looked like her covering fashion magazines or starring in ad campaigns. From a marketing perspective, it's important for brands to relate to their consumers: "In order for them to do that, they need to cater to those from a vast range of backgrounds," she says.
"There are so many hijab-wearing women working in healthcare so really providing them a piece that allows them to be the best version of themselves while working is important," Aden concludes. "I wanted them to feel seen and heard during this unprecedented time."
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