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Marriam Mossalli on Empowering Saudi Arabia's Female Entrepreneurs -The Zay Initiative

Written by: Nikoleta Morales

Marriam Mossalli, founder of Niche Arabia and author of “Under The Abaya: Street Style From Saudi Arabia” held a conversation with Zay Initiavive’s founder, Reem El Mutwalli, about women empowerment in Saudi Arabia. Mossalli’s mission and platform as a mother, journalist and female entrepreneur, is to make sure all women’s stories in Saudi Arabia are told as they are and that women feel empowered.

“We, in the Arab world, face a lot of misconceptions,” agreed Mutwalli.

Mossalli talked about how when she worked as a journalist in 2008, she noticed that the Arab News were “copied and pasted from the wire.” She wanted to see a change so she established the Life and Style section of Arab News. “I wanted to see change and to tell our own [Arab] stories,” said Mossalli.

As a female entrepreneur, she spoke about the misconceptions about Saudi women. While at a conference in 2016, she was asked questions whether women still drive in her country. The question made her realize that people still have outdated information about the women in her country.

“We are not the source of our own story,” said Mossalli.

In hopes of clarifying misconceptions of Saudi women internationally, she launched her first book in 2018, “Under The Abaya: Street Style From Saudi Arabia,” in which she showcased true Arabian women telling their own stories. The book represents “the diverse Saudi fashion scene and the progressive Saudi woman who own it.” She raised funds to put five women in school for photography who contributed in the second edition of the book. Her goal was to foster “women supporting women.

Mossalli wanted to create a book for young women with inspirational stories for the next generation.

“Studies show that when women see other women in those spots, they can visualize and execute it.

They see it, they become it,” she said.

In her book, she is showcasing women from all walks of life - from the well-known Saudi Arabian influencers to the “underdogs who deserve to be seen,” as well as female students.

“The women in the book show a different image of what is perceived abroad,” said Mutwalli in regards to the misconceptions that still exist.

Mossalli said that at first women did not want to show their faces, but in 2018, 99 percent of the women wanted to show their face and their instagram handles in the book. “The difference and what has shifted is that it is no longer taboo to be in the spotlight,” said Mossalli.

“Traditions are getting lost because we are getting industrialized. We want women to tell their own stories,” said Mossalli. Dr. Mutwalli then reviewed photos of the evolution of the Arab dress and how it has changed over time.

“The new generation needs to know their heritage and background. Every piece of clothing tells a story of the person who wore it,” said Mutwalli.

“Young Saudi designers want to retain their cultural heritage and contain it in a contemporary way,” said Mossalli. “It is about preserving our heritage and culture. It is not about being the first, it's about being the best,” she added. “You are competing on a global market. It is about pushing people who are the best and that is inspiration to me.”

In support of the women empowerment mission, Dr. Mutwalli also discussed the Zay Initiative’s Scholarship program coming up to empower women. It aims to support five women or recent graduates into the workplace.

For more information on the scholarship or upcoming events, visit the Zay Initiative at:

For more on Marriam Mosssalli, visit:

Photo credit: Marriam Mossalli


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