Burquini – How It Happened

By Shlomo Maital


   The burquini, or burkini (a combination of the word ‘burqa’, the garment that covers religious Muslim women head to toe, and bikini, which does the precise opposite) is a two-piece swimsuit. Its invention is a story of innovation based on an entrepreneur who needed something for a loved one…and create something for thousands of others. It is also an innovation story based on X+Y:   combining two things others never thought to combine, a burqa and a bikini.

     According to Adam Taylor, writing in the Washington Post, Ahida Zanetti, who moved from Lebanon to Bankstown, an ethnically mixed suburb of Sydney, Australia, saw a clear and obvious need, one many others saw but never acted to satisfy:

   “It was a game of netball that first inspired Zanetti to make sportswear, she says, speaking over the phone from her home on Wednesday. She had been watching her young niece play her first game of netball but was dismayed to see her have to play with her team uniform worn on top of more traditional Islamic attire. “When I looked at her, she looked like a tomato,” Zanetti says.   Though Zanetti didn’t wear the Islamic veil herself (she has since started), her niece’s predicament angered her. She looked for a garment that was both modest and suitable for sports. She couldn’t find one, so she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Zanetti says the move to create the burkini was inspired by an article she read that contained a description of Muslim women wading into the water wearing burqas. She decided to look up the definition of the burqa in the dictionary, which described it as a garment that covers the head and the body.   She then looked up the meaning of “bikini.” It was described as a small two-piece bathing suit. Zanetti decided there was no reason not to combine the burqa and the bikini. “It’s just a name that I invented. It doesn’t mean anything,” she says of the burkini. “It’s really an Islamic two-piece bikini, but that sounds stupid.”

   Zanetti has trademarked the words burquini and burkini, and her business is thriving. She has gained invaluable PR from France’s Prime Minister, who supports French municipalities that ban the burquini from their beaches, on the grounds it is a religious statement. I think this is simply wrong. The burquini is an article of clothing that enables religious Muslim women to bathe in the water, more or less comfortably. This is their right.   It is interesting that it took one woman in Australia, Ahida Zanetti, to satisfy a need that was clear, evident and widespread – but ignored by men for decades.