eliza berkon is a journalist and musician based in washington d.c. 

Form follow function in new, modest athletic wear line

When Kamal Kalifa saw female athletes such as acclaimed basketball player Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir competing in clothing that allowed them to observe Muslim tradition but wasn’t built for comfort, he decided to do something.

“What you wear should never limit what you can achieve,” says Kamal, co-founder of NoVA-based athletic brand With Honour.

With his sister Muna Sayyad and one of his brothers, Nader Kalifa, Kamal researched how to design clothing that would better serve athletes who want options other than the standard fare of racerback tank tops and leggings. The team interviewed Muslim and non-Muslim female athletes in the United States and internationally about what clothing would best meet their needs and support their performance.

“When I go to the gym, I don’t like to dress down or wear a tank top or anything like that. I’m constantly wearing a hoodie,” Nader says. “And I see women athletes who do the same, whether they’re in the gym or going running. A lot of times, they’re piecemealing a lot of different things.”

With Honour, so named to emphasize the importance of achieving one’s goals with honor and respect, will soon release its first two products: The Aurora Hoodie (estimated price $70) has adjustable side zippers that allow the wearer to extend its length and loosen tightness at the hips. The SnapJab (estimated price $50) is a two-piece fitted hijab that snaps together, offering an alternative to hijabs that are normally secured with potentially dangerous pins. Both products offer UV protection, are quick-drying and use Jade-Infused Honour-Cool technology—which aims to lower body temperature by up to 10 degrees.

“We don’t want us being covered to be a disadvantage; we want it to be something [where] we are equal to other people playing the same sport,” says Sayyad, who plays on a Muslim basketball team.

The company is developing a partnership with UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, to donate a share of clothing proceeds to support international refugees. Azzam “Sami” Kalifa, the late patriarch of the Kalifa family, was a refugee himself as a child in 1948, when his Jerusalem home was destroyed during the Arab-Israeli War. After first fleeing to Jordan, Azzam immigrated to the United States in 1969, and later married a Jordanian named Jenny who joined him in the U.S. By 1990, they had enough savings from odd jobs to open Flower Den Florist, a shop that began in Annandale and is still an active family business in its Lorton location.

“We’ve always had so much respect for my father and my mother because they really built a family-owned business from the ground up,” Nader says. “He came to this country with nothing in his pocket; I mean, literally, he had $60 to his name. He didn’t speak the language, and in fact he was supposed to go to Seattle, Washington, but he bought a ticket for Washington and ended up in Washington, D.C.”

After a year in which travel bans targeting countries with predominately Muslim populations incited national protests, the Kalifa siblings are proud to offer a product that celebrates diversity.

“Now is such a critical time in our country’s history,” Kamal says. “We’re trying to get rid of that whole xenophobic feeling going around. And it’s very important to know that Muslims aren’t just someone to be targeted. They’re part of the fabric of who we are. They’re everywhere, just like Christians, just like Jews, just like atheists.”
“And we’re all humans at the end of the day.”


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