top of page

Dr. Reem El Mutwalli on Empowering Cross-Cultural Dialogue Through Fashion

Written by: Nikoleta Morales

We speak with Dr. Reem El Mutwalli from The Zay Initiative a non-profit, UK registered initiative advancing the preservation of cultural heritage through the collection, documentation and digital archiving of Arab historical attire and their stories. The Zay Initiative’s goal is to empower and sustain global cross cultural dialogue to inspire creative minds.

Preserving Cultural Heritage

The founder of The Zay Initiative, Dr. Mutwalli has invested in a collection of historic dress over the course of the past decades. The collection includes examples acquired from the simplest rural families to the ruling families of the region. The core of the collection is based on UAE traditional dress, in addition to key examples from Yemen, Morocco, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and others.

During our in-depth discussion, Dr. Mutwalli discusses the history of the collection, the importance for preserving heritage, and how fashion is being used to dispel myths and misconceptions about women and society as a whole.

Watch the full video in our front page under our 'Cultured Focus Television' spotlight section or Youtube here.

She emphasizes that although united by Arabic language, each of the various Arabic speaking countries has its own unique differences. The audience should undertand that not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. It is important to recognize that one is a religion, and the other an ethnicity. There are different religions and different ethnicities in the Arab world. In the wider Islamic world, there are Arabs and non-Arabs that are Muslim, she said. These lines can be misinterpreted by people that do not take the time to better understand and learn the nuances. The Zay Initiative works to dispel myths and misconceptions. For example, there are common misconceptions related to women, and their dress. The initiative is able to shine a light on these aspects for those who want to learn based on fact based information that has been recorded and preserve.

With the support of the UAE's visionary leadership, women are in key leadership roles throughout the country. From the past to present, the Emirati women have participated in building the nation.

Women will continue to grow and excel in leadership throughout the sectors of their choosing, making the country a beacon throughout the region. The women of the UAE are beautiful, strong, and resilient and know what they want for their careers and family contrary to common misconceptions in Western media. There is much audiences can learn from the discussion.

We are sure viewers will enjoy Dr. Mutwalli's unique perspective from her years growing up in the UAE and over 30 years she has spent in the field of art and cultural heritage.

Next session:

Be sure to follow them for their next

Webinar on Arab Fashion with Alia Khan, Founder of the Islamic Fashion Council 20th October 2020.

The organization welcomes donations, volunteers, and support from the community. For more information, visit

About | The Zay Initiative:

The Zay Initiative aims to promote an understanding of the evolution of regional culture, building up public awareness and appreciation of this unique heritage, reaching out to like-minded individuals and institutions nationally, regionally and globally.

The Five Pillars of the Zay Initiative are:

• Collect, document and conserve Arab dress and adornment.

• Present and contextualise through a digital archive and blog.

• Encourage intercultural dialogue to highlight our shared humanity.

• Inspire and educate designers to create for a sustainable future.

• Empower women regionally and globally by bringing their untold stories to life

Reem El Mutwalli Biography:

Dr. Reem El Mutwalli is the founder of The Zay Initiative, an organization created to empower and sustain global cross-cultural dialogue and to inspire creative minds.

The author of several books, Dr. El Mutwalli has had a substantial influence in the world of arts and culture in the Middle East region and globally since the early 1980s. A public figure and designer, she has created museum displays, curated exhibitions, established art workshops, and influenced the careers of many artists in the United Arab Emirates. She has been advisor to world-renowned auction houses, VIP art collectors, led the development of cultural initiatives, and continues to maintain her private costume workshop and interior design consultancy. She is recognized as a leader and authority on Middle Eastern culture, and is frequently a spokesperson and contributor to arts-led columns and features.

For more on Dr. Reem El Mutwalli, visit

Photo credit: The Zay Initiative supplied/Dr Reem El Mutwalli/ Issa Saleh Al Kindy photography


bottom of page