The Zay Initiative (an Arabic term for the art of dress) is a free online portal called The Memory Closet that features more than 800 traditional garments from the UAE and the Middle East as a whole. It’s the first fashion-history archive with pieces that date back to the 19th century, such as an old Syrian izar (a long silk shawl).
Dr. Reem Tariq El-Mutwalli is a Dubai-based author and founder of The Zay Initiative; she has been involved in art and culture for more than 30 years now. For her, this initiative is simply a reminder of her own roots and to celebrate her longing to hold onto her Iraqi heritage through possessions and appreciating the Arab world’s unconditional love of unique textiles and crafts.
“Every garment in the Zay Initiative’s collection has a story to tell. For example, a beautiful red traditional abaya from Syria gifted in the late 1930s by the Emir of Cyrenaica in Libya to a Parisian family who had saved his son from attempted suicide. “It is a wild and fascinating tale, that incorporates different cultures and countries, carrying stories of people that have never met nor will ever meet,” Dr. Reem told Arab News.
Dr. Reem’s Zay opened a window into the colorful world of Arab dresses. This digital archive is going to eventually grow to become a fully-fledged virtual museum, providing students and scholars who are interested in fashion, design, or history with an unlimited free guide to the evolution of the collection’s unique pieces.
The museum went live at the end of last year, and all of Dr. Reem’s efforts are mainly directed and focused on raising awareness of and growing her collection.