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"Ahiida Managing Director Aheda Zanetti designed the ‘Burqini swimsuit’ when she noticed some women were opting out of swimming activities due to the lack of fashionable swimwear on offer that also aligned with religious and cultural beliefs. The Burqini (or burkini) is a type of swimsuit for women that covers the whole body except the face, hands and the feet (enough to preserve Muslim modesty), while being light enough to enable swimming. It offers the perfect solution for Muslim women wanting to swim but feel uncomfortable about ‘revealing’ bathing suits. Lebanese Australian Ms Zanetti said the Sydney-based company, Ahiida, opened up a whole new range of swim and sportswear garment choices for women made from breathable, moisture controlled fabric that allowed freedom of movement and flexibility. “It looks rather like a full-length wetsuit with built-in hood, but somewhat looser and made of swimsuit material instead of rubber,” she said. Ms Zanetti said it was also her intention to extend the market for the Burqini swimwear to cover a variety of purposes. “The Burqini swimwear appeal can extend to women who are especially sun sensitive and seek more cover while participating in sun sports. In Australia, the sun is extremely harsh and the incidence of sun cancer is unfortunately quite common – so the Burqini is a fashionable and comfortable way to cover up while being made of materials that are perfect for swimming,” Ms Zanetti said. “It’s also an option for women who don’t want to show as much skin – or are self conscious about their figures,” she said. Ahiida works with Australian Government agencies such as Austrade and industry bodies to help increase awareness and sales of her product nationally and overseas. Ms Zanetti said she had been inundated with business enquiries for her product as well as an influx of internet sales. “We have enquiries coming for all women no matter their religion, color, size or shape. We have many non-Muslim women asking about the Burqini swimsuits- Jewish women, Catholic women; there are also men asking ‘when’s the men’s range coming out?’” Ms Zanetti has worked hard to have the Burqini accepted in European nations such as The Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France. “We have been delighted by the number of international orders from women wanting conservative swimwear and sporting outfits,” Ms Zanetti said. Earlier this year, she showed her wares in Paris, and said it was upsetting to hear of the incident this month where a woman wearing covered swimwear clothing was asked to leave a public pool in France as well as the report from the anti-immigration mayor of Northern Italy saying he has barred women from wearing the Burqini if spotted at swimming pools or riversides in the northern Piedmont town of Varallo Sesia. “It is very disappointing when a Government allows that to happen – they are racist remarks.” Ms Zanetti said reports in the media around the swimsuit being unhygienic were unfounded. “There's no proof full-length swimsuits are unhygienic,” she said. “Hygiene is a matter for the individual, not the suit.” “Wearing a Burqini swimsuit is not a political statement,” she added. Ms Zanetti said it’s about freedom of choice and greater acceptance for Muslim women. “Don’t judge a book by its cover and respect people for who they are.” “We don’t want to discourage people from living a full and varied life and my experience in Australia and from overseas sales, is that the Burqini offers the chance for women to embrace an active lifestyle,” she said. Ahiida achieved global media attention when Bahrain’s Olympic short distance running champion, Ruqaya Al Ghasara competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games wearing the Australian-designed and manufactured Hijood body-covering top including the modern Hijab in accordance with Muslim tradition. Ms Al Ghasara, said that wearing the Hijood Sports Top from Ahiida had improved her performance. For enquiries contact Aheda Zanetti on tel 612 97500641 or email@example.com. More information is available and orders can placed on the Ahiida website: www.ahiida.com."
Media Release - 21 August 2009
"Bahrain's Olympic short distance running champion, Ruqaya Al Ghasara will turn heads today at her first Beijing race (200 metres Tuesday 19/8/08 at 12:21 EST) stepping out in an Australian designed and manufactured body-covering top including the modern Hijab in accordance with Muslim tradition. Ms Al Ghasara, currently ranked number seven in the world, said that wearing the specially designed Hijood Sports Top from Australian company Ahiida had improved her performance. "It's great to finally have a high performance outfit that allows me to combine my need for modesty with a design made from breathable, moisture controlled fabric that allows freedom of movement and flexibility," said Ms Al Ghasara. "It's definitely helped me to improve my times being able to wear something so comfortable and I'm sure it will help me to give my best performance at Beijing. "I hope that my wearing the Hijood Sports Top will inspire other women to see that modesty or religious beliefs don't have to be a barrier to participating in competitive sports." Ahiida Managing Director, Aheda Zanetti, said that although this outfit had been custom made for Ms Al Ghasara her company had been deluged with international orders from women wanting conservative sporting outfits since its inception five years ago. "Since Ahiida first came to media attention with our special Burqini Swimsuit for Aussie Muslim lifesavers, we have had significant interest in our unique conservative sportswear," said Ms Zanetti. "Our sportswear supports women who want, for whatever reason, to wear things that are modestly cut and have useful functions like keeping their hair out of their eyes whilst enjoying an active sporty lifestyle. "We are thrilled to be associated with Ruqaya who is a passionate and talented sportswoman and a great role model. Ms Zanetti said that working with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) had helped her to access many international markets. "Austrade had helped me to be in places that I couldn't get to and to speak on my behalf internationally," she said. Austrade's Chief Economist, Tim Harcourt said that Ahiida was indicative of Australia's unique business capability in servicing big sporting events. "As a nation of sports fans, you'd expect Australia to know something about this sector. And fortunately, it's true!," said Mr Harcourt. "Since putting on the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Australia has developed a world class reputation for sports infrastructure, sports marketing and merchandising as well as sports medicine and sports-related technology. "Holding sporting events themselves has also helped Australian exporters in other sectors. For example Cleanevent which provided cleaning services to Sydney picked up the Athens contract, architects like PTW and Woodheads are helping to design architecture in Beijing in the Olympic precinct and elsewhere and Biograde are using the Olympics to showcase their environmental technologies. "Since the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australia has forged over $1.7 billion in trade and investment deals via sports related networking. It's become part of our national brand and its shows that the sport exports do have lasting economic benefit." Austrade will harness the excitement and energy of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games to showcase Australia in China. More than 3000 Australian and Chinese businesspeople are expected to attend events at Business Club Australia. Business Club Australia is the official business program for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, and will use the resources of Austrade's Chinese network of 15 offices to bring together Australians and key Chinese officials and businesspeople. Over 40 Australian companies have won more than 50 Beijing Games related contracts, many with Austrade assistance. Bahrain's Olympic team are sponsored by Nike. As part of Ms Al Ghasara's team contract she competes in Nike shoes and National Olympic Committee sleeveless Vest. ENDS Media contact Samantha Mattila, Senior Media Adviser Tel: + 61 2 9390 2388 Mob: + 61(0)434 567 673 For further news and information from the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) visit www.austrade.gov.au/mediacentre."
Austrade media release - Tuesday, 19 August 2008
"From all of us at Ahiida our families and friends..., we would like to congratulate you for your great achievement in qualifying for the Semi-Finals Women’s 200m running at the Beijing Olympics 2008. We are all very proud of you!"
"With its Anglo tradition threatening its future, Surf Life Saving Australia is riding a new wave. Melita Khawly's red and yellow lifesaver cap can barely contain her mass of thick, dark curls. Khawly, who has a Lebanese background, doesn't drink beer, is a vegetarian and has a penchant for stylish bikinis - especially frilly pink ones. She does not exactly fit the bronzed Aussie lifesaver image exported to the world. Neither does Ben Nguyen, a lifesaver of Vietnamese background, who barely knew how to swim when he was growing up. But in many ways, they represent the future of Surf Life Saving Australia. Next year is the movement's 100th, but despite the wave of multiculturalism that has washed over Australia since surf lifesaving began, it remains resolutely Anglo, an anachronistic bastion of blue eyes, freckles and blond hair. Surf Life Saving Australia has been aware for some time that it is effectively a monoculture, with a few trailblazing exceptions such as Khawly and Nguyen. In 2000, the organisation commissioned a report, Sound The Siren, which confirmed what its members already knew anecdotally: that among the Smiths, Bakers and Joneses, the Khans or Trans were few and far between. The report found 86 per cent of surf club members surveyed had at least one parent born in Australia, and most lived close to the beach. Whereas this iconic image has helped sell Australia, it has become the greatest threat to the organisation's future, says SLSA's national development manager Chris Giles. "With the growing level of multiculturalism, we risk becoming irrelevant," he says. The need to increase diversity among its membership became even more pressing after last year's Cronulla riots. Though the details of what happened when a fight broke out between lifesavers and Arabic youths at Cronulla beach have been disputed, the symbolism was clear: Anglo Australians were enraged at the perceived attack on one of "their" cultural icons, the lifesaver, and at what they saw as encroachment on "their" territory. It showed that further clashes were inevitable unless the two camps resolved their differences. This summer, Surf Life Saving Australia kicks off a $600,000 national program funded by the Federal Government called On The Same Wave, a partnership with Sutherland Shire Council and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The pilot program will directly target Muslim communities and schools in Sydney's south and south-west but also involve Chinese, Lebanese Christian and African ethnic groups. It's an ambitious undertaking, with the aim of teaching young people of ethnic backgrounds surf skills such as spotting rips and basic first aid so that they can potentially become lifesavers. The broader aim is to encourage the idea that the beach is there for all to share. In one of the first initiatives, 22 members of Lakemba Sports Club held their inaugural pool training session for their bronze medallion yesterday, the first step to becoming lifesavers. Club president Jamal Rifi says even if less than half of them join a surf club, it will still be a success. "It's the process that's important," he says. "This is uncharted territory for us ... I had always assumed the clubs were a closed shop area, until I came in touch with the people." But why have the clubs been an Anglo stronghold for so long? There have certainly never been any official rules that bar members of any ethnic background, says Newcastle University academic Nancy Cushing, a contributing author to the recently published book Between The Flags: One Hundred Summers Of Australian Surf Lifesaving (UNSW Press). But the way the movement was organised, in the British military tradition, it was simply not appealing to migrants, Cushing says. "They didn't feel welcomed," she adds. Even when post-war immigration was starting to transform society, the surf clubs remained staunchly conservative. Feminists saw them as macho dens where hard drinking and larrikin exploits were all part of male bonding. It was not until 1980 that women were allowed to become full club members, and then only after overcoming resistance from men who fought to keep the status quo. The widespread acceptance of female lifesavers - who now make up more than 40 per cent of club members - has shown that the movement can embrace change, and smoothed out some of the rough edges. Khawly, a child of immigrant Lebanese Christian parents, had a perception of surf lifesaving as something that blond, blue-eyed Aussies did, and found surf clubs intimidating. With plaques and photos of stern-faced white men lining the walls, and an intensely militaristic organisation, they reminded her of RSL clubs. "All the military undercurrents were a big turn off, with patrols, captains, and all the marching I saw on the beach," she says. It was only after a friend introduced her to surf boat rowing that she was inspired to obtain her bronze medallion and join North Steyne Surf Life Saving Club. Nguyen observed that surf lifesaving was something passed down from father to son, and where outsiders were seen as "blow-ins". His observation is confirmed by the Sound The Siren report, which found that three-quarters of surf club members surveyed were introduced to the club by friends or family, and 70 per cent had family who were current members. Nguyen decided to join his local club at Woonona on the NSW South Coast at 20, after being swept out to sea with his cousin. A weak swimmer, he had to turn to some surfers for help. "That was a turning point," he says. "I didn't want to be in that position again." When he moved to Bronte Surf Life Saving Club four years ago he was welcomed but regarded as a curiosity nonetheless. He has never met another Vietnamese lifesaver. Lee Howell, who is in charge of the On the Same Wave project, is under no illusions as to the enormity of change needed. When canvassing students from schools in areas such as Bankstown, Auburn and Granville, he found a widespread perception that surf clubs were exclusive and private, and that you needed the fitness of an ironman to participate. But the fear and suspicion work both ways. Howell met some young people who had never been to the beach before. There were others who didn't dare do more than paddle around the edges. Parental fear of sharks and drowning played a part in their reluctance. Nguyen was deliberately kept away from the water as a child by parents who were scared of the ocean. He was fed "a lot of hocus pocus" about how the ocean contained "this thing that would take you out and drown you". Khawly says she was never encouraged to play sport, particularly competitive sport. "As Lebanese girls, we were brought up to be very feminine, well dressed at all times, with a sense of modesty," she says. Lebanese Muslim girls who choose to wear the hijab have an extra barrier to overcome as donning a swimming costume on a public beach is unthinkable. But that problem is being addressed by a Punchbowl designer, Aheda Zanetti, who has invented the "burqini", a two-piece, lightweight swimsuit that meets religious requirements for modesty. Zanetti is also working with SLSA to design red and yellow burqinis for budding Muslim lifesavers. For Muslim women who don't want to take part in water-based activities, SLSA is running first aid training courses. One of the keys to the success of the On The Same Wave program will be to induct more children from ethnic backgrounds into Nippers, the junior arm of SLSA. "Parents see they have an opportunity for their kids that was denied to them," Howell says. "Nippers are tomorrow's lifesavers." But he stresses On The Same Wave is a long-term project and that we will see the results in the next 20 years. In the meantime, it will depend on a few pioneering individuals such as Nguyen and Khawly to buck cultural norms, paving the way for others. Nguyen and Khawly say they have had to adapt to the surf club culture, not the other way around. "I built that bridge, because I enjoyed smashing the stereotype and I was achieving things for the betterment of the club," Khawly says. Khawly remembers club members viewing her with bemusement in the beginning. "All the older guys were in peals of laughter," she says. But they started taking her more seriously when she formed a rowing team that became North Steyne Surf Life Saving Club's first all-female competitive crew in several years. Khawly and her fellow "boaties" with Brazilian, Italian and Ukranian backgrounds, called themselves "the wog squad". They entered their first surf carnival and lost almost every race but they won the respect and admiration of the club for their sheer persistence. "We were like the Jamaican bobsled team," Khawly jokes. Nguyen, who swims competitively for his club, says that the voluntary aspect of lifesaving is what makes it such a valuable organisation. "I really believe in surf lifesaving, and its original idea of people giving up time to make the beach a safer place," he says. And once you become a "clubbie", you are welcomed into a big family, he says. "Sometimes I look around and see we are united. All from the love of the sun and the sand and the surf." [...ends] For more information on Surf Life Saving Australia's 'On The Same Wave' program, contact SLSA on 02.9300.4000."
Story courtesy The Sun Herald (NSW). By Danielle Teutsch November 12, 2006
"The design of most modern sportswear puts many Muslim women athletes in a curious bind: adhere to their faith and have their motions hampered or compromise their beliefs in the name of athletic performance ..."
Jennifer Cutraro for National Geographic News - April 27, 2006
See the full story on the National Geographic website by clicking here.
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