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The Art of Preserving Arab Fashion Through The Zay Initiative

Written by: Nikoleta Morales

The Zay Initiative held another discussion in regards to the art of Arab fashion. Dr. Reem El Mutwalli and Adhra Al Mansoori, Head of Carribean Affairs at the UAE Embassy in Cuba, spoke about the UAE culture through preservation of clothing. Zay is the arabic term for dress. The goal of The Zay Initiative is to collect individual narratives through attire.

“We are trying to tell the story of the whole Arab nation, to document and introduce the Arab culture to the rest of the world,” said Dr. Mutwalli.

Miss Mansoori agreed as she spoke about her experience as a diplomat wearing Arab fashion. “You do see different people wearing different attire at the receptions,” said Mansoori. “I use what I wear to start a conversation at receptions.”

“We are always telling a story through what we are wearing,” agreed Dr. Mutwalli.

Dr. Mutwalli showed examples of dresses that tell stories about cultural norms, society, individuality, personality, backgrounds, and religious beliefs. She also spoke about the accessories that accompany the dresses, such as toe rings and necklaces shaped like a crescent. “The crescent represents the start of a new month, a good omen, the beginning of good luck,” said Dr.Mutwalli.

In the Zay Initiative’s chronicles, Dr. Mutwalli showed how the UAE culture moved from nomadic to urban. “It makes my job easier. The changes that took place are chronicled in a digital publication,” she said. “I hope it will help young individuals to be diplomats, designers, researchers and come across the Arab culture to learn more about it.”

In her presentation, Dr.Mutwalli spoke about the basic elements of men and women’s UAE attire, while showing images of men and women who wore them.

“You see the power from the images. Certain colors of clothing can tell about the people who owned them,” she said.

One misconception that Dr.Mutwalli discussed is that people assume that UAE women always dress in black, but “in reality we are full of color in clothing. It is so lovely to see women expressing themselves in traditional clothing sustaining it and preserving it. It allows us to keep the stories of these women throughout time,” added Dr. Mutwalli.

To learn more about the Zay Initiative, visit:

Stay up to date on the latest information from the UAE Embassy in Cuba at: or


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