Dubai fashion project offers Palestinian designs and helps women in West Bank

The project sees about 30 women in Palestine earn an income by embroidering clothing that Noora Husseini has designed. The items are then sold globally online.

Noora Husseini, left, founder of Taita Leila, with Palestinian business woman Naima ‘Umm Hamadi’ Zeyad in Palestine. Courtesy Alexandra Sturgill
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DUBAI // For many in the Arab world, the word “taita”, Arabic for grandmother, is synonymous with love, comfort and wisdom.

For Noora Husseini, it was also the inspiration behind a social enterprise that offers customers modern clothing enlivened by the long and rich tradition of Palestinian embroidery.

The 30-year-old Palestinian resident of Dubai came up with the idea for her clothing line, Taita Leila, while working as a full-time chemical engineer in Sharjah.

She would travel back and forth to Palestine until she eventually quit her job to dedicate her time to the project, in which about 30 women in Palestine earn an income by embroidering clothing Ms Husseini has designed. The items are then sold online.

“I had this idea for the project, and after not being in Palestine for a while,” Ms Husseini said.

“The idea was to give back to Palestine in a constructive way and bridge modernity with the cultural elements of the Palestinian identity.

"Taita Leila is my grandmother, who wrote the book Art of Palestinian Embroidery, in which she shows different motifs and talks about the different cultural exposures in our historical timeline."

She said her grandmother encouraged her to run with the project. “My taita was cool in the sense that she let me do what I want with it,” Ms Husseini said.

“We are employing people in Palestine and helping them reach markets via the internet they can’t reach.

“[The clothing line] is all made in Palestine, even the boxes the clothes are shipped in.”

Ms Husseini has an office in Ramallah where the women can work if they want to but many of them are from different parts of the West Bank so work at more convenient locations.

“Some work from their homes, while others work at women’s societies or co-ops and at their own pace,” she said, adding that some of the women embroidered at a workshop in the Al Am’ari refugee camp.

She is trying to reach women in the Gaza Strip, which, according to a United Nations report last year, has a 44 per cent unemployment rate. “We want to reach people there but there are, of course, difficulties,” she said.

Ms Husseini and a Palestinian tailor design the clothes, but she said it was a group effort as the employees advise them on what material can and cannot be embroidered on.

Taita Leila’s soft launch was in December, after they crowdfunded in June. An official launch in Jerusalem is scheduled next month and the first clothing line of 10 pieces is available online only.

“Most of our customers are, surprisingly, in the West, not so much the GCC, and I think it’s because people there are more online adept,” Ms Husseini said. However, she said she has had some orders from Dubai.

Naima “Umm Hamadi” Zeyad, whose business Heritage Touch sells embroidered accessories and jewellery helped Ms Husseini set up her business.

“Noora did not know a lot of people who embroider and I wanted to put her in touch with them,” said her fellow Palestinian.

“It doesn’t only help Noora but also the more than 30 women we work with.

“Noora’s work is great, her ideas are original. I think it’s important for a person to stay true to their identity and culture and integrate that in new endeavours.”

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