Taking Arab heritage into the future

Influencer @zozokahramana and IFDC's Alia Khan with the Zay Initiative model at The Retail Summit

Dr Reem El Mutwalli’s vision for The Zay Initiative has always been to take the history and heritage from the UAE and wider Arab world into the future. To create a platform where the fashion, garments, and embellishments from the past can serve as a foundation for future generations of designers, curators, students and visionaries to build a new legacy.

This week we made great strides towards our goals when we participated in The Retail Summit™ at Atlantis The Palm, in Dubai. The aim of the summit and its main partner, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry was to bring together world leaders in fashion, hospitality, retail, and technology to discuss how to innovate, embrace digital, and build agile organisations, allowing all of us to thrive in a modern, technology-enhanced environment.


The Sultani Book and Collection

Childhood influences

Dr Reem El Mutwalli’s love and lifelong infatuation with textiles, and in particular Emirati women’s dress, started at a very young age. Growing up surrounded by the women of the UAE royal family, Reem understood that she had a unique insight into the mostly enclosed lifestyle of Emirati women.

It was from Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding father of the UAE, that Reem learned the importance of wearing traditional dress. He believed that traditional dress should be part of everyday life, and not become a ‘costume’ to only be worn on special occasions. He encouraged all Emirati citizens to wear traditional dress on a daily basis.


Dr Reem El Mutwalli

The Zay Initiative is the brainchild of Dr Reem El Mutwalli. Understanding the cultural and historical significance of the Zay Initiative will be almost impossible without getting to know her first.


“Iraqi by birth, Western in education and upbringing, Arab in spirit and Emirati in passion.” Reem came to the UAE in 1968 – the same year oil was discovered – as a young girl of five, when her father started working as the economic consultant to Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, then the Crown Prince of the Abu Dhabi (UAE).

Reem spent her childhood and formative years surrounded by the women and children of the ruling family and has many fond memories of the time. “I was exposed to the lifestyle in the UAE back in the day, which was such a privilege.