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Meet Leena Butt of Hijabs and Aprons in Inland Empire

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leena Butt.

Leena, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Art was my first true love. In the latter years of elementary school, my favorite after school activity was using Adobe Photoshop 5.0 on my dad’s NEC computer. Does anyone else remember the super-quick (ha!) launch screen with the creepy fake-blue eye and birds flying out of a photo filter? Since then, my passion for photography, video, and design only grew; from my first filmmaking project in junior high to personal projects in photography, graphic design, and retouching throughout high school and college.

I received my B.A. in Studio Art in 2013 and shortly after, I started working at a small wedding photography company where my skills in photo and video post-production were refined and strengthened. Many friends told me to start my own business as a photographer, but I consistently felt that I was not suited for an endeavor like that. Soon after that first job, I accepted a great opportunity to work as an album designer and retoucher at a much larger, premiere wedding photo/video company in Orange County.

If art was my first love, then food is my second. Cooking and baking are pastimes I’ve enjoyed since I was a teenager. I grew up watching my mom cook almost daily not just for our family meals, but for weekend dinners at our home (“daawats”) with friends in the local Pakistani-Muslim community. Art, food, and community–they’re ingrained in me.

After six years of working in the wedding photography industry, I made the big decision to leave it. I nervously decided to take on the challenge of creating and managing my own brand in hopes of pursuing my dream of creating a community of like-minded people using my love for and skills in both art and cooking—all from the comfort of my own home. And thus, Hijabs and Aprons was born.

Has it been a smooth road?
For most people, I don’t think it ever is. Halfway through my undergraduate studies at UCR, I decided to switch my major from Biochemistry to Studio Art. This was really difficult for my South Asian parents to understand and accept, but eventually they fully realized my deeply rooted passion for the arts and embraced my choice. I graduated college in 2013. Three months later, my eldest brother passed away. I didn’t pick up my camera for nearly a year. These initial defining moments catalyzed (there’s the biochem!) immense growth and healing. That growth allowed me to realize it is not selfish to want to use my unique identity and expertise to create and help a community of others like me.

For the longest time, I was intimidated by the thought of running my own business or having my own brand. I told myself “it’s not for me.” That wasn’t completely true though; I simply wasn’t ready for it at the time. I wasn’t necessarily in the wrong niche during the six years I worked in the wedding industry, but there came a point when it was no longer the best fit for me. What I have now that I lacked all those years is confidence and a willingness to fall so that I can get back up. Having said all that, this journey of growth and healing will last a lifetime.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
To put it very simply, Hijabs and Aprons is a food blog where I share my love for cooking through my passion and skills in photography, videography, and design. The name “Hijabs and Aprons” is both uniquely personal to me and still very relatable for others. It combines my love for cooking (“aprons”) with my identity as a Muslim woman who chooses to wear hijab. It hints at my content and recipes being “halal,” permissible for Muslims to consume (gustatorily and visually, both). However, rather than limit my brand to just myself or my cooking, I chose to generalize and pluralize the brand name a bit to better encompass my nonexclusive audience: a community that shares a love for food and art (both digital and traditional).

Because of my education and professional experience in digital art, I consider myself a multimedia artist first and foremost. Within the niche of food/cooking, I’m a food photographer and videographer, food blogger, and recipe developer. However, I also share content on bullet journaling and plan to share more DIY projects within the unifying umbrella of art. In this sense, Hijabs and Aprons is still about the hungry hijabi behind it all: me!

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