A Conversation with Jeannie Jay Park

Hannah Teoh Outreach Manager

Fashion and activism is at the core of Jeannie Jay Park’s work. Jeannie Jay Park is a multidisciplinary creator, activist, and model that blends her passion in cultivating intersectional solidarity through activism and her love for art and fashion in her work. A first-generation Korean American, Jeannie is an outspoken advocate for Asian American representation. Over the week, Jeannie and I discussed the influence of culture and upbringing in her work, fashion and activism, and cultural appropriation.

Photo Credit: James Bee

Jeannie grew up between New York, Seoul, and New Jersey. “I was raised in a traditional Korean household as the daughter of two Korean immigrants and my grandparents were Korean War refugees. Ultimately, and I think this is the same for a lot of Asian Americans, our roots are so layered and multidimensional.” She talked about how her mother made sure to raise her to be as connected to her Korean identity as much as her American identity. “That was something I resented growing up.

Growing up as Asian in America, we’re often forced to shrink the parts of us that make us uniquely us— our food, our culture, our heritage, and so on. But now I have nothing but pride. I’m very thankful that my mother raised us in both environments because I now have a better understanding of who I am and why I do what I do.”

“After the Atlanta shooting and I was out protesting in New York, I just wasn’t seeing the representation of Asian women on a frontline, mainstream level. And I felt like I needed to see more to be able to heal in that moment.” Jeannie said. But the pain of the Atlanta shooting that Jeannie felt was also borne out of the culmination of all the silence and suffering she had to endure growing up.

“My mother always told me, “I am quiet so you don’t have to be,” and I was always being boxed in myths and stereotypes as a token Asian growing up. It is because I know the pain that lies beneath the silence that I am so loud now. It is what fuels me to speak out against all these myths and wanting to dismantle them.” 

Jeannie continues to be a fierce advocate because she understands that it takes more than just representation to heal racial trauma. “It’s a daily practice of consciously unlearning the Asian shame and guilt that we learn and internalize growing up in this country. With every micro-aggression and every trope of the Asian woman we see on TV where we’re nothing but sex objects, we unconsciously internalize them and subscribe to them.” For Jeannie, speaking out against racism and sexism has also helped understand how she has subscribed to the narrative, and how it is her biggest inspiration now. “I think so much of activism is centered around other people and getting other people to hear a message. But for me, it was about doing and creating the things that I needed to create to heal myself. I think I have the tendency to live for other people, but I’m starting to realize that it’s also for me too,” she said. Pushing forward with her activism, Jeannie is a co-organizer of Warriors in the Garden which is a non-violent activist organization aimed to combat all forms of system oppression stemming from white supremacy.

“Fashion has always been my love language.”

“I think it crosses cultural, ethnic, and gender boundaries. It’s a common language that many of us share and come together in. Ultimately, it tells us a story of who we are as people with the clothes we choose to put on our backs every day.” Jeannie shared. The significance of fashion is more than just for personal expression to Jeannie. “For me, it’s a question of what story are we choosing to tell? Is it one that is furthering the progression of our collective society? I’ve always seen fashion as a communal space, not just something for one person or one culture.” Thus, Jeannie founded Sanitation Nation, a youth-led collective that merges fashion and activism focused on collective empathy, justice, and intersectional solidarity.

Jeannie studied Race and Sustainability in Fashion and minored in the Asian American Experience at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. “A lot of what I studied is about how the traces of the violence we’re seeing today has been bred through centuries of anti-Asian racism in the exploitation of a predominantly Asian female working labor class that fuels our fashion industry.”

“There’s no industry that bears as much of a burden and has profited as much as the fashion industry which has built itself off of the labor force of the East.”

She discussed how the West deploys an economic form of neocolonialism through outsourcing fast fashion production in countries in Asia, and how exploitation of workers in these countries often goes ignored. “Around 80% of mainstream Western fashion labels have a majority workforce that is Asian. And during the pandemic, we saw a lack of proper response from many fashion brands in the face of rising hate crimes.”

Racism and sexism is not only evident in the production of fashion, but in the culture we consume. “Racism is not just these violent hate crimes we see on the news. It trickles down to every single moment of appropriation that is normalized in Western media. In Hollywood, there’s the “Dragon Lady” trope where the Asian woman is foreign; always other, always exotic, never accepted, never equal, and never more than just a body. Ultimately, it’s dehumanizing.” The effects of cultural appropriation run deeper than just wearing a culture as a costume, said Jeannie. “In the wake of Atlanta, where six Asian women were targeted and killed, and how Asian women are facing violence at three times a rate, we have to understand that this is because of the coalescence of racism and sexism that Asian women face.”

“For us, it’s not just appropriation, and it’s not just fetishization. It’s violence.”

Jeannie wants to be a force of change with her work and activism, and she hopes to inspire and educate people through fashion. Fashion can be a powerful tool of empowerment and expression, and Jeannie aims to use fashion to do just that.

Fun Rapid-Fire!

Favorite Asian Dish


Current On-repeat Song

Lost Angel Nights by James Blake

Favorite place to visit

Daegu, a small town in the countryside outside Seoul, South Korea where my dad’s family is from. 

Based in New York, Jeannie Jay Park (she/her) is a multidisciplinary creator, activist, and model. She is the founder of Sanitation Nation, a non-profit brand that combines fashion and activism to build intersectional solidarity; Jeannie is also a co-organizer of the non-violent protest collective Warriors in the Garden in New York City that works to dismantle systemic oppression and white supremacy. You can find her on her Instagram.

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Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

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