The Dubai Institute for Design and Innovation (DIDI) Collaboration Events

 A big focus for me has been on decolonising the study of fashion history.
The Zay archive offers a wonderful opportunity for the students to study historical garments up close and to discover alternative and lesser-known fashion histories.
Noorin Khamisani


The Dubai Institute for Design and Innovation (DIDI) is a new university-based in Dubai Design District. All students study design with two concentrations, choosing from fashion design, product design, multimedia design, or strategic design management. Within fashion design, DIDI’s focus is on developing conceptually driven conscious designers, with a curriculum rooted in sustainability.




Initiated by fashion lecturer, Noorin Khamisani and our founder, Dr Reem el Mutwalli, a collaboration with the Zay Initiative was introduced in the second-year lecture course in which the students learn about the contexts within which fashion exists.

Noorin Khamisani explains: “The aim of the collaboration is for the students to learn about object-based analysis, how to uncover dress history, understand fashion history in the MENA region, and gain confidence in undertaking research.  Strong and varied research are the hallmarks of successful designers.”

Dr Reem believes students, especially fashion design students are the future. “They need to be involved and benefiting, learning from, and getting inspired by what we are preserving of the past. Without them the Zay Initiative’s legacy cannot be fulfilled. To be grounded in one’s heritage is a key building block to individual style, and it inspires creative thinking. Understanding heritage is an essential tool and building block for a successful fashion career. This region holds strong spending power when it comes to fashion retail. All design students will benefit on a professional level if they understand how our heritage can provide design solutions suitable to meet the needs and tastes of the region.”



Middle Eastern fashion history

In many European countries, fashion history is focussed on Western fashion designers only. “It continues the traditions that lead to cultural appropriation by designers that do not understand non-Western fashion histories.”  For Noorin Khamisani it felt wrong to teach only a Western fashion history when there are such a valuable heritage to explore in this region. “That is why at DIDI we do a broad overview of both Eastern and Western fashion history.” 



Four regions, Four projects

Noorin asked Dr Reem to choose four different outfits from the Zay Collection representing four different regions.  Outfits from Yemen, Syria, Morocco, and the Ottoman Empire were selected I tried to present the students with a variety, to capture their interests and engage them as they research the articles of dress. I want to inspire them as they learn about the styles and influences that this area of the world present.”

The students worked individually or in groups. Each team had to research the history of the outfit assigned to them as well as the political and historical events, gender differences, and social status that influenced the design and purpose of their outfit. They then had to produce a video and a written presentation of their research and ideas of how it can be interpreted in contemporary fashion.

(click on the image to see the .pdf presentation)


Yemen – Amal Alsuwaidi, Sara Alnajdawi


Syria – Tania Rafif

Syria – Tania Rafif


Morocco – Hiba Naji, Safa Karam, Sonia Samara

Morocco – Hiba Naji, Safa Karam, Sonia Samara

Ottoman – Hoor Bakhit, Pavan Malik, Mona Itani

Ottoman – Hoor Bakhit, Pavan Malik, Mona Itani

Ottoman – Hoor Bakhit, Pavan Malik, Mona Itani


As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, the students were not able to have a physical exhibition this year. Instead, DIDI presented their work in a digital exhibition which can be viewed here:




For Noorin Khamisani, fashion history is about more than just learning about the history of clothes. She believes it is an essential element in understanding sustainable fashion, something she has been advocating for, her whole career. “I think the way in which clothes were valued, mended, shared and passed between users historically is an important lesson from the past.  We know the fast-fashion model is unsustainable and has de-valued garments, the idea that garments could be thrown away after a few weeks needs to change.  This is something that the history of fashion can teach us.”

The Dubai Institute for Design and Innovation (DIDI)



We, at The Zay Initiative, are proud to be involved, not only in the history of local fashion and dress but also in helping to shape the future of fashion in the region. This is an open invitation to other fashion design faculties in the region, and beyond, to reach out to us for collaboration.