Small Business Superstars – Maryam Pugh of Philadelphia Printworks

Small Business Superstars – Maryam Pugh of Philadelphia Printworks

Here at Champagne in The Locker Room, we are all about promoting small business.  Having said that, we will be launching a new interview series on the site called “Small Business Superstars”.  The goal for this series is to promote stories of growth, development and entrepreneurship along with their individual stories of success.  


In our first edition of “Small Business Superstars” , we introduce you to Maryam Pugh, co-owner of Philadelphia Printworks.  Ms. Pugh has recently seen a new wave of attention from national media outlets such as MSNBC, MTV and Huffington Post for its “School of Thought” Black History line of crew-neck sweatshirts depicting the names of imaginary colleges modeled after each figure’s (six different colleges) respective craft or field.  I am proud to state that I am an owner of one of the sweatshirts (and as big guy, they had my size and I am forever in debt for that).


Without further ado, we present, Maryum Pugh.


“Can you tell us about yourself and what exactly is “Philadelphia Printworks?””

I’m a mother, lover, friend, business owner, geek who enjoys reading, traveling and exploring the things I do not know. Which leaves a lot to explore, lol. Philadelphia Printworks is a t-shirt company committed to activism and inclusion. This is demonstrated through our designs, our platform and our business model.


“First I would like to say I love your collections….and your angle for the company…..what was your inspiration to start this particular type of clothing line that obviously is a break from the norm?”

Thank you. When Ruth Paloma Rivera-Perez and I started the company we were really excited about learning how to screen print. We were both also really passionate about social issues. So, it was very organic for us to consider t-shirts as a way to do both.


“How did you and your partner meet?”

We met through mutual friends in the same circle in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is funny that way. There are a lot of different circles and sometimes they overlap. Luckily we bumped into each other. There was an art show at the time called Fourth Wall and we met there.


“What was the inspiration for creating a fashion line and do you have a target demographic?”

Eradicating oppression. Our target demographic is all marginalized and oppressed people.


“Were you trying to just be a new age messenger for the millennial activist crowd or using the brand to enlighten or even inspire someone who may have had doubts?”

Ummm… We just wanted to share information. Information that we thought more people should know about. We thought that if they knew more about the injustices going on in the world more people would be outraged. Eventually, that turned into amplifying the issues that were directly impacting our communities. And, eventually, that shifted into trying to create less reactive designs.


“As a woman…black woman at that….how is sexism (perceived or not) an issue with promotion of the brand?”

That’s a complicated question, lol. I think it’s a two part answer. The first part deals with how I perceive myself: I am a person who has had experiences colored by my gender and race. Because of that I am passionate about advocating against racism and sexism. This probably reveals itself in my brand. Part of our mission is to encourage a culture of inclusion. So, I market to everyone, men, women and non-gender identifying individuals, because I feel that everyone needs to have a seat at the table in order for us to identify intersections of oppression.

The second part of my answer discuses how I may be perceived by others. I think that I’ve tried to market Philadelphia Printworks in a way that is gender neutral.  But, whether I promote the brand as gender specific or not, discussing feminism automatically makes it appear that I’m promoting a woman-centric brand. Also, if I was a man this would be a non-issue because society has made it normal for men to market to both women and men. But, because I’m a woman, it’s assumed that I’m marketing to other women. That’s part of the reason that I stayed behind the scenes for as long as I did.

Honestly, I’m kind of used to being the only black woman in the room. I don’t even notice it anymore.


“With all of the social issues going on in America today….will your brand continue to push the envelope with hot button issues?”

We’ll continue to keep doing things the way that we’ve been doing them. The pursuit of truth and justice gives me the courage I need to overcome any pressure I might feel to conform.


“As a dad of a young girl, I am always inspired to hear stories from young mothers taking a leap of faith….what made you finally take that leap?”

When I had my daughter, at 22, I made the choice that I would never allow her to be an excuse for why I couldn’t succeed. In fact, I used her as a catalyst to do more… to be better. She drives me to keep trying to be the best version of myself.


“With Philly roots in the name of the company, has there been any requests for collabs with any other major cities, since we are based in DC?”

Other cities have definitely showed us a lot of love. We’ve been invited to events in NY, DC and California. I think the topics we talk about resonate both locally and nationally. I’ve always found it very interesting to see how our experiences overlap and how they differ. I’d love to collab with other cities. Hopefully we’ll have the chance in the future.


“Has new found fame made it more difficult to keep up with supply and demand or were you guys already equipped for such a moment?”

Due to a series of unrelated events, I had just started to outsource my printing. So, luckily we were mostly prepared. There were a few things that revealed themselves as the demand grew. But, those were welcome growing pains that I’ve learned from and have made adjustments since.


“How did it feel to see your work received so well by national media outlets such as MTV, Huffington Post and others…you’re a celebrity now!”

LOL.  It was kind of surreal and fast and whirlwind. I think we were just trying to keep up. I kind of wondered why people cared so much all of the sudden… since we had been doing the same thing for 5 years before this. But, I think it was just a tipping point… That combined with an awesome collection by Donte Neal and the current political climate really put us in a position to excel. It was very humbling. I am very thankful. It reminded me of how many people there are just like me who are out there hustling but go unrecognized.


“What can we expect in the future from Maryam Pugh?”

Thank you for asking this question. Over the past few months Philadelphia Printworks has truly developed into a team of truly talented people. We have an awesome blog editor, Dominique Matti, who is in charge of all of our amazing writers. We also have a Social Media Editor, Eryn Amel, and two customer support people, Sarah Kim and Desiree Robinson, who I could not do this without.  I’m excited about what’s to come for PPW. But, I’m also excited to have help so that I can explore who I am outside of PPW. It’s been a large part of my identity since it’s inception.

I would like to explore my photography more seriously. I would like to get back to printing.. but this time in poster form… I’d like to start writing more, publicly… throw my hat into the ring… I think I’m starting to find my voice and I’m looking forward to seeing who I become.


You can check out all of the awesome things happening at Philadelphia Printworks by going to their website here.

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