As our society and culture begin to change, we’re seeing more and more products with a focus on social justice and community development. Focusing on bringing a community together encourages and inspires people in a way that they don’t get from other companies and products. Maryam Pugh understood this idea and wanted to bring about change in her own community in Philadelphia.
After teaching herself how to screenprint with YouTube (yeah, that’s right), she created Philadelphia Printworks, a screenprinting workshop that focuses on bringing awareness to various social movements, especially within the Philadelphia community. Maryam always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur and chose to continue the social justice themes she experienced as a child to be at the forefront of her brand.
Scroll through to read about how she made this her full-time gig and her biggest advice for entrepreneurs looking to use their platforms to speak out on societal injustices.
Name: Maryam April Pugh, Owner/CEO of Philadelphia Print Works
Current Location: Philadelphia, PA
Education: BA Computer Science, MS Information Systems Management with a concentration in Programming Languages
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
My first job was working at the local YMCA in the small town that I grew up in. My family had a membership and a few of my classmates were lifeguards. I couldn’t swim, so I applied to work in the snack bar. It was a fun, summery thing to do. I was probably around 14 years old and I wanted to be near the action!
Have you always had a passion for social justice? Why is it so important to you?
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this question and I find that my answer changes the deeper I dig. On a superficial level, I think everyone should be civically engaged — it comes with the responsibility of freedom. On a deeper level, I believe that it has been instilled in me by my community ever since I was a child. I can recall going to Sunday school as a child and how the congregation cheered me on as I sang “This Little Light of Mine.” Now that I’m older, I know that the same song was used during the civil rights movement as an act of peaceful protest. I have found that the legacy of resistance has been woven into the tapestry of my life — it has always been there.
I have found that the legacy of resistance has been woven into the tapestry of my life — it has always been there.
You learned how to screen print on YouTube! How did you develop this interest?
I’ve always been a pretty tactile person; I enjoy working with my hands. Creating things brings me joy and gives me an irreplaceable sense of accomplishment. I am intrigued by the use of screen printing by protest movements, and I am excited to play a small part in continuing the legacy.
Had you ever thought you would become an entrepreneur? What challenges did you encounter when starting this business? Was anything easier than you thought it would be?
I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Even when I was in college studying computer science, I was trying to think of products I could launch and sell for extra money. I feel like the side hustle has been ingrained into my community. My mother had a full-time job but also sold Avon to make extra money. I was surrounded by people like this growing up. I think I also identified that there would always be a glass ceiling working against everyone, and that to be the type of leader I wanted to be, I would have to build my own ship.
I think I also identified that there would always be a glass ceiling working against everyone, and that to be the type of leader I wanted to be, I would have to build my own ship.
Philadelphia Printworks was a side-hustle for you for a while before leaving a job at Oracle. When did you know you were ready to go full-time?
I knew it was time to leave Oracle when I had built up Philadelphia Printworks to a place where I thought it could sustain me financially. I crunched the numbers and realized that if I shifted a few things around and brought my manufacturing back in-house, I would be able to pay myself to do the same work full-time. I probably could have continued to do both for much longer. But, I also felt unfulfilled in my position and needed to devote my time to something that challenged me and fully utilized my leadership abilities. It’s a privilege to have been in a position where I could make the change.
Take us through your typical workday.
On a typical day, I wake up and check my calendar — if it’s not on my calendar it doesn’t exist to me. From there I’ll see what’s on the agenda for the day and either plan to work from home or head into the print shop. Throughout the day, I work on a variety of tasks that touch on all of the various parts of running a business. That most likely includes touching base with my team on the day-to-day tasks of the print shop, identifying any high-priority or urgent orders that need to go out, meeting with prospective clients, and working on a range of collaborations that are already in progress. I wear a lot of different hats, which currently include marketing, PR, and social media. I’m always looking for ways to streamline processes to avoid duplicating efforts on repeatable tasks. As we grow, I try to identify work that can be eventually delegated to a new team member.
You’re involved in a few different organizations in Philadelphia, such as Mural Arts Philadelphia and the March to End Rape Culture. How has this diversified and enhanced your mission and products?
Volunteering with these organizations has helped me to hone in on my mission and to develop a greater understanding of the challenges faced by grass root organizations. It’s given me insight into the issues that people are mobilizing around and the fundraising and awareness needs of many organizations. This enables me to see where I can connect the dots in terms of resource sharing and the platform that we’re able to offer through Philadelphia Printworks.
What has the response from the community been like? How has this community embraced your products?
We receive so much love for Philadelphia Printworks. The community has always embraced us 100 percent. I feel a responsibility to the community and I think they can sense that.
What advice would you give to people looking to develop products to invoke change?
I think the best advice I can give would be to pass the mic, meaning that the best person to tell a story is the person experiencing the oppression themselves. If you are in a position to utilize your privilege to amplify someone else’s story, you should do it. In our case, it’s important that we work with the communities that are directly impacted by the issues that we highlight, and we make sure that they are compensated for that labor. That’s the difference between amplification and appropriation.
I think the best advice I can give would be to pass the mic, meaning that the best person to tell a story is the person experiencing the oppression themselves. If you are in a position to utilize your privilege to amplify someone else’s story, you should do it.
What is the most challenging part of your job? What about the most rewarding?
The most challenging part is trying to be socially responsible in a society that is built on consumption.
The most rewarding part is building a community that can operate as part of a larger ecosystem of organizations committed to seeing the same change.
What does the future of Philadelphia Printworks look like?!
I think about this a lot. I would like to continue to build our team and our clients, and I want our brand to grow and am looking forward to more partnerships. I hope we can eventually own a warehouse where we can employ more people from the community, serve the community, and provide educational workshops to the community. I think it might be nice to have a PPW storefront one day. When I really start to get lost in my own thoughts, I think about the possibility of replicating the PPW business model in other cities — I guess we’ll have to see!
What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
All of those people that you think are smarter than you are not. You will never learn all there is to know, so don’t be afraid to start. It’s okay to make mistakes, and you’ll learn as you go.
Maryam Pugh is The Everygirl . . .
I wish I knew how to… Do a back flip.
Piece of clothing you wish would go back in style? Fanny packs.
Home essential everyone needs? A housecoat and a fuzzy pair of slippers.
Go-to Starbucks order? Grande caramel macchiato
Ideal way to spend a Saturday? In my pajamas, on my couch on my laptop, while watching a movie with my family.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Michelle Obama. No explanation required.