A commissioned collection of ten outfits, created by ten Emirati women creatives – five artists and five designers – interpreting contemporary Emirati fashion, art, and design. All ten women are well-established creatives, each with a body of work spanning several years and representing the current artistic landscape in the UAE.

This collection, now a permanent part of The Zay Collection, is on display at Zeman Awwal, the new cultural hub at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai until the end of March 2022.

Cultural Dress Heritage

According to the dictionary, heritage refers to something we acquired from our predecessors or ancestors – a legacy or an inheritance. The word also refers to that which belongs to the culture of a particular society, such as traditions, languages, and buildings. Things that exist from the past and continues to have value and importance in the present time.

Cultural heritage includes tangible items such as buildings, art, books, and artefacts, as well as intangible items such as folklore, language, and knowledge. It can also include natural heritage such as particular landscapes and biodiversity.

The process of protecting heritage by keeping it alive for the present and future generations is referred to as conservation (UK English) or preservation (US English) and is usually performed by museums and other cultural organisations such as UNESCO, and of course, The Zay Initiative.

At The Zay Initiative, we focus on the conservation of cultural dress heritage. Protecting, collecting, documenting, and narrating both the tangible and intangible heritage associated with dress and fashion in the Arab world.

We also focus on protecting, collecting, documenting, and narrating current and contemporary Arab dress, as this will become the cultural heritage of future generations. In this light, we often commission garments and outfits, like the ten outfits in this collection, to represent specific events, trends, and historical events, documenting history as it happens.

Five Artists

In 2018, our founder Dr Reem el Mutwalli hosted an event at her home and garden celebrating Emirati women empowerment. She invited five artists to each create a work of art on a piece of silk during the event. These five pieces of painted silk were then used to create a specially designed combination (thawb) and (kandurah) gown (thawb_kandurah) to be preserved in the artist’s name as part of The Zay Collection.


Khulood Al Jabri

She holds a bachelor’s degree in humanities and social sciences from the UAE University, and a diploma in business administration from Abu Dhabi University. As a colleague of Dr Reem Tariq El Mutwalli, they worked together for many years at the Cultural Foundation Abu Dhabi.

The artist chose to paint (rasm) her signature abstract yet figurative style using her well-known colour palette of blue, black, purple, yellow and orange. Depicting a female face wearing the face mask (burgu).


Dr Najat Makki

A pioneering UAE artist and the first Emirati woman to earn a government scholarship to study art abroad in 1977. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sculpture from the College of Fine Arts in Cairo, where she also received her doctorate in the philosophy of art in 2001.

The artist chose to paint (rasm) her signature abstract yet figurative style using her well-known combination of copper tones (purples, greens, and blues) and contrasting colours (yellow & white).


Azza Al Qubaisi

She is often referred to as the first Emirati jewellery designer, is an artist, sculptor, designer, and entrepreneur. A fierce advocate of all that is homegrown and sustainable, she has established two governmental projects to support and develop crafts.

The artist chose to paint (rasm) her signature five-petal flower symbol using white and grades of blue, in addition to washing the white silk in grades of blue paint.


Mona Al Khaja

An Emirati artist with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cairo University. She is a member of the Emirates Association of Fine Arts and a member of the committee for the creation of the curriculum of art education in the UAE.

The artist chose to paint (rasm) in her abstract style using blue, green, and yellow colours on a white silk background.


Amalie Beljafla

An aspiring young UAE artist, known for her whimsical large-format paintings where dreams are woven with reality using symbolism from nature and traditional UAE culture.

The artist chose to paint (rasm) a typical traditional sailing vessel dhow surrounded by butterflies.


Five Designers


Lubna Lootah

An Emirati designer and creator of the ‘Only One by Lubna Lootah’ label.

This is a two-piece ensemble consisting of a tunic dress (kandurah) and a matching overgarment (thawb) is a post-millennium stylised version deliberately modified by the designer to present her contemporary take inspired by the traditional.


Feryal Al Bastaki

A self-taught Dubai-based fashion designer. She launched Neswah Tailoring in 2003. This evolved into Feryal Al Bastaki Boutique, a leading brand in the Emirati fashion scene. She prefers to create her own trends producing unique mixes of styles.  

This combination overgarment tunic (thawb_kandurah) with a matching veil (shaylah) is called Bahr Jmayīrah. The lower half of the outer garment is printed with a watercolour painting of Jumeirah beach painted by the designer. It evokes the seascape and coastal environment of the UAE. Shades of blues, beiges, and browns are digitally printed onto the silk chiffon fabric of the overgarment (thawb).  


Shaikha AL Gaithi

A Sharjah-based self-taught UAE designer. She established her workshop in 2008 and was awarded the prestigious role of designing the traditional outfits for the young hostesses during the opening ceremony at Dubai Expo 2020 in October 2021, where she created three particular styles. She donated an example of each style to The Zay Initiative’s collection.

Her five-piece ensemble was awarded first prize at the Zay Art of UAE Dress Design Competition held by The Zay Initiative in conjunction with Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown in 2021 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UAE. The ensemble consists of an overgarment (thawb), a tunic dress (kandurah), a veil (shaylah), and a group of imitation jewellery in traditional UAE style: necklace (mriyah um shnaf), hair accessory (hyar) and earrings (kwashi).

The designer chose to incorporate panelling referencing the traditional myaza’ and included a short train referencing the traditional thawb thayil. She was adamant to employing traditional elements going as far as hand-dying the silk chiffon with (wars), turmeric, rosemary, mahlab, saffron, nutmeg to obtain the vibrant orange colour, and carmine, a natural pigment derived from the cochineal scale insect for the purplish fuchsia colour.


Moza Saeed AL Rumaithi

An Abu Dhabi-based, self-taught fashion talent. Her interest in dressmaking started at a very young age by designing dresses for family members and friends before launching her Instagram based brand in 2010.  

This example records the post-2020 evolution of the traditional UAE dress where the contemporary combination overgarment tunic (thawb_kandurah) is made from printed fabric to resemble a traditional panelled garment (myaza’), and an inner tunic (kandurah) that acts as a lining. 

The designer not only designed the garment but also the fabric. Creating the pattern and outline of traditional garments in a digital format and then having it printed onto the fabric. This means the coloured panelling and embellishments resembling (talli) work are printed onto the fabric. The garment is made of one continuous piece of fabric rather than assembled pattern pieces. 


Wadima Al Ameri

An Al Ain-based mother of three boys and three girls. She holds a bachelor in advertising and is a self-taught fashion talent. Her interest in dressmaking started at a very young age by designing dresses for family members and friends before launching her tailoring workshop in 2018.   

Titled (thawb Dubai), this combination overgarment tunic (thawb_kandurah has an outer layer of panelled (myaza’), hand-embroidered (shak) French tulle (tur), with an inner tunic (kandurah) or lining in white satin silk. The yoke as well as the seams between the panels are hand embroidered with metallic thread in gold and silver, as well as pink, green, and white cotton threads. The pattern is an arabesque floral design depicting flowers, leaves, and trailing stems. The dress is perfumed and carries a luxurious aroma. 


Detail descriptions of all ten outfits can be found here.