Ad Nut
Jun 21, 2021

The 'Tough Turban': Protective headwear for Sikh motorcyclists

A turban that looks and feels like fabric but provides some level of impact protection is not only a cool design case study but also a great example of making something for a community—rather than just marketing to it.

Ad Nut is not in the habit of writing about initiatives spearheaded by motorcycle dealerships in Canada, but there's a lesson here for all brands and agencies. 

Toronto creative agency Zulu Alpha Kilo and Pfaff Harley-Davidson, a dealer in the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, have unveiled what they call the 'Tough Turban'. It's not a helmet, exactly, but a protective piece of headwear designed for riders of the Sikh faith.

Turban-wearing Sikhs are granted an exemption from mandatory helmet laws in some of the provinces of Canada and other jurisdictions, as helmets are seen to violate a religious dictate that men musn't wear any head covering except for the turban.

But couldn't a turban be designed to also provide some level of protection to the wearer? Yes, thought Zulu Alpha Kilo creative team Dan Cummings and Vic Bath; the latter gentleman is from a Sikh background. The agency worked with Sparks Innovation to prototype a design that features a non-Newtonian foam (a foam that is normally pliable but hardens instantly on impact), 3D-printed chainmail and a composite fabric used in bulletproof clothing.

And it gets better, the final design has been open-sourced, enabling any manufacturer worldwide to create reinforced turbans for riders in their regions. 

Companies often talk about 'marketing to' specific communities. But usually that means convincing the people in those communities to buy more of the things those companies already make. Corporations are forever seeking insights that will unlock the wallets of various people, but too often their actual understanding of those people is skin deep at best.

But of course the best way to gain the custom and loyalty of any community is to serve it well with the things you make. That means you have to listen. Understand. Then make something. Not an empty gesture! But a thing that meets an actual need. 

A quote from Zak Mroueh, founder and chief creative officer at Zulu, shows how well the creators of the Tough Turban understood this: "The Tough Turban further empowers Sikh riders to protect who they are".

Catch the dual layers of meaning? Now that's an insight worthy of the term.

By the way, Ad Nut highly recommends making yourself some non-Newtonian fluid to play with at home. It's kind of mind-bending.


Client: Pfaff Harley-Davidson
Agency: Zulu Alpha Kilo
Chief Creative Officer & Creative Director: Zak Mroueh
Head of Design: Stephanie Yung
ACD/Art Director: Vic Bath
ACD/Writer: Dan Cummings
Designer: Jeff Watkins, Rasna Jaswal
Client: Brandon Durmann, Melanie Somerville
Agency Producer: Colleen Allen, Laura Dubcovsky, Tom Evans, Kathryn Brown
Account Team: Rob Feightner, Matt Sinuita, David Trembley, Allison Diaz Mercado
Strategy Team: Spencer MacEachern, Shaunagh Farrelly
Product Design: Sparks Innovation
Production House: Zulubot
Director: Barbara Shearer
DOP: James Arthurs
Editor: Jessie Posthumus
Moton Graphics: Ashlee Mitchell
Illustrator: Nabil Elsaadi
Audio Engineer: Dino Cuzzolino
Web Design: Jacqui Lau, Kesia Payne
Photographer: The Moto Foto | Dan Lim
Online Artist: Felipe Chaparro
Head of Production: Adam Palmer

Ad Nut is a surprisingly literate woodland creature that for unknown reasons has an unhealthy obsession with advertising. Ad Nut gathers ads from all over Asia and the world for your viewing pleasure, because Ad Nut loves you. You can also check out Ad Nut's Advertising Hall of Fame, or read about Ad Nut's strange obsession with 'murderous beasts'.


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