To continue our month-long celebration of International Women’s Day we caught up with Doris Ho-Kane, founder of 17.21 Women, an Instagram archive of influential Asian women throughout history. 17.21 refers to the 17.21 million square miles that make up the continent of Asia, and it’s a fitting title when you consider the range of people Doris represents—from anonymous Vietnamese-American girls of the ’80s New Wave scene to someone as well-known as Yoko Ono. See what Doris hopes to do with the project in the future, plus get to know her go-to outfits, neighborhood spots, favorite modern-day mixtape and more.
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do, where do you live?
I’m a first-generation Vietnamese-American, a mom and a proud daughter of refugees. I grew up in Texas but moved to New York City 17 years ago for art school. I worked in fashion for most of my career but just “graduated” from a pastry apprenticeship. I’m really excited to follow my sweet tooth and see where it leads me. Right now I live in Brooklyn, more specifically Cobble Hill.
Let’s talk go-tos…
Coffee order: Before I gave up coffee, I drank cà phê sữa đá with boba, herbal grass jelly and pudding. It’s Vietnamese-Taiwanese rocket fuel. Some would even disqualify it as coffee and say it’s dessert.
Outfit: Easy one-piece dressing like coveralls and overalls, or an old threadbare sweatshirt tucked into high-waisted blue jeans. As for accessories, white Birkenstocks with socks, hair in a loose braid or low bun and my wedding band on a gold chain around my neck.
Neighborhood spot(s): Poppy’s To Go for the best babka, biscuits and bundts. Books Are Magic because let’s make reading great again. MilkMade has small-batch ice cream produced and sold out of what used to be an old dairy plant. And while it’s technically not in my neighborhood, I love Ayako Kurokawa’s bakery, Burrow. All of these wonderful businesses are founded or cofounded by women.
Album/playlist: I’m a total sucker for a mixtape (call me a “Xennial”), so I put together this special playlist.
- More Women | Saâda Bonaire
- Silently | Blonde Redhead
- Âme Debout | Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes
- Rebel Girl | Bikini Kill
- Cola Boy | Emily’s Sassy Lime
- Germ Free Adolescents | X-Ray Spex
- Charity Ball | Fanny
- Con Tim Và Nước Mắt (Heart and Tears) | CBC Band
- Dreams (The Cranberries cover) | Faye Wong
- Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac cover) | The Cranberries
- The Operation | Charlotte Gainsbourg
- Dancing Barefoot | Patti Smith
- Losing You | Solange
- Feel It Out | Yaeji
- Blue Spirit Blues | Maki Asakawa
- Wild Is The Wind | Nina Simone
Weekend plan: Getting up after everyone else does. Doing away with any type of schedule. My husband usually makes something that lasts the entire weekend, like a big pot of phở. We like to explore the neighborhood and keep it as low-key as you can with young kids, which is never, ever maximum chill but we try!
We’re big admirers of 17.21 Women. What first inspired you to create the account?
Thank you! I was in a funk after the 2016 presidential election and wanted to channel my frustrations into something that would be visually impactful and reach as many people as possible. As an Asian-American woman, I’ve often felt like an underdog, misrepresented and invisible. I wanted 17.21 Women to be a positive, effective space where I could honor these extraordinary ladies, reinforce their important legacies and dispel any myths and stereotypes cast on us as one-dimensional and all the same.
How have people responded to it so far?
It’s been really great—I’d say 98% positive, 2% trolls. As with anything considered feminist and/or political, there will always be negative criticism. 17.21 Women’s followers are the best and I focus on their enthusiasm and encouragement.
So, what’s your process for choosing women to feature on the page?
There’s not really a linear process. I do keep a list open in my iPhone Notes when I come across someone interesting, but for the most part, I’ve had most of these people in mind since my angsty teen days. I spent a lot of time at public libraries and punk clubs in downtown Dallas. I was educated via microfiche and enlightened gutter punks.
That’s kind of amazing. Do you see things expanding beyond Instagram in the future?
Oh, definitely. Establishing a physical archival space, publishing beautiful books, producing quiet yet powerful films, hosting potluck dinners where we watch Trinh T. Minh-ha’s movies projected on the walls of a museum or gallery…getting really specific here, ha! I would love to collaborate with like-minded folks, especially women, on everything from projects linked to activism to more unexpected opportunities in art, fashion and food.
And finally, tell us about a lady you love in your life.
I love my mom—she’s a 60-year-old powerhouse. She has time for everyone but still somehow manages to carve out time for herself. She is the most intuitive, self-reliant, talented and beautiful woman I know. She’s Miss Saì Gòn, Ram Dass and Martha Stewart all rolled into one.
Don’t miss Doris and more Ladies We Love in our video below and watch this space for our last interview of the month.
P.S. If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to enter the Women for the Win sweeps. You could score a Madewell shopping spree, a copy of The Little Book of Feminist Saints, a custom illustration by Manjit Thapp and a $1,000 donation, made in your name, to our friends at Girls Inc.* Go, go, go (!)
*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to legal residents of the 48 contiguous United States (excluding Rhode Island), 18 years or older and over the age of majority in jurisdiction of residence at time of entry. Ends March 31, 2018, at 6:00pm ET. For Official Rules, visit www.refinery29.com/sweeps/madewell-international-womens-day-sweepstakes/. Void where prohibited.