In celebration of the UAE’s cultural heritage, where tradition meets innovation, The Zay Initiative has partnered with Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown to host an international design competition, ‘ZAY – THE ART OF UAE DRESS’. The competition gave aspiring up and coming designers from around the world a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design a traditional Emirati dress, or thawb, with a modern twist. The winning designs are now part of The Zay Initiative’s permanent collection of Arab historical attire.

The five finalists and their designs with the jury panel at Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown. Inspired by the Sofa Series by Issa Saleh al Kindy


The Competition

As the UAE celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, The Zay Initiative and Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown invited designers to draw on three iconic UAE traditional outfits as captured in The ‘Sofa Series’, a collection of limited edition images by Omani photographer, Issa Saleh Al Kindi as well as Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown’s iconic art and interior design to create their individual interpretation of the traditional Emirati dress – ‘Thawb’, with a modern touch. Participants submitted their design sketches as well as a written concept note and/or a video clip explaining their creative thought process.

 “We believe that it is essential to preserve and accurately portray the intangible cultural heritage of the UAE and as such, we are elated to partner with The Zay Initiative who aim to empower and sustain global cross-cultural dialogue to inspire creative minds.” Laura Eggleton, General Manager of Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown


The Jury Panel: Feryal Al Bastaki, Dr Reem el Mutwalli, Patricia Millns (FRSA), Astrid Lesuisse

The Jury

All designs were reviewed by a jury panel of four iconic names in the fashion and design industry. Feryal Al Bastaki, Founder and Designer of Feryal Al Bastaki Fashion, Dr Reem Tariq El Mutwalli, Founder (CEO) of The Zay Initiative, Patricia Millns, Fellow of Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and Creative Advisor at The Zay Initiative and Astrid Lesuisse, Art Manager at Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown. The jury shortlisted five finalists who had the opportunity to bring their winning designs to life and display their works at an exclusive fashion exhibition at Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown from 2nd November until 31st December 2021.

Design by Hala Louna Bunni

Design by Pavwan Malik

Design by Shaikha Algaithi

The Finalists

After much deliberation, the five finalists were announced:

Fashion design student: Marwa BenSlil
Artist, Hala Louna Bunni
Fashion design student, Sauda Akhlad
Fashion design student, Pavwan Malik
Fashion designer, Shaikha Algaithi

The finalists all had the opportunity to be mentored by Dr Reem el Mutwalli on the past, present, and future importance and context of Emirati dress heritage.

Design by Sauda Akhlad

Design by Marwa BenSlil

The Winners


The winners were announced on Sunday 28 November 2021, at an event hosted by Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown, to coincide with the UAE’s 50th-year celebrations on 2 and 3 December 2021. According to the chairperson of the jury panel, Dr Reem el Mutwalli, the final selection was a difficult decision. Three winners were announced:

The Public Choice Award voted for by visitors to the exhibition at the hotel, is: Sauda Akhlad

“This design represents our brand ethos of connecting with our community through the use of art and design.” Astrid Lesuisse

Runner-up and recipient of the Highly Commended Award is: Marwa BenSlil

“Fascinatingly done, superbly executed with a high standard of design and implementation. We all fell in love with it.” Dr Reem el Mutwalli

Winner: Shaikha Algaithi

“There are many reasons why this design stood out. The fabric was hand-dyed using traditional methods, every symbol on the dress represent something from the UAE culture, be it the pearls, the gold, the handicraft. Even the panelling is part of the UAE traditional custom.” Dr Reem el Mutwalli

The Zay Initiative is honoured to add these designs to our collection. They represent the future of UAE traditional dress.