Written by: D’Shonda Brown
The #ShopBlack Interview Series is a new installation that shines light upon budding and booming Black-owned businesses ran by millennials and Gen-Z’ers who are heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. Introducing Maryam Pugh, the lead curator and head honcho of Philadelphia Printworks, a screen printing workshop and social justice heritage brand that pays homage to Shirley Chisholm, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin. Read below the in-depth interview between D’Shonda Brown and Maryam as they explore conversational topics from the importance of Black culture as it relates to literary works, fashion and hip-hop influence.
Hi, Maryam! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about your brand. Tell us about Philadelphia Printworks and what was the inspiration behind this platform?
Philadelphia Printworks is a social justice heritage brand and screen printing workshop. As the name indicates we’re based in Philadelphia, but, we’ve partnered with organizations across the country. We were founded in 2010 by myself and Ruth Paloma-Perez. She left in 2012 and I’ve been the sole owner ever since. When we started we were excited about learning how to screen print and tying that into social justice issues. Since then, the medium has remained the same and the messaging has evolved to amplify the voices of marginalized communities.
Your shirts are just amazing when it comes to making political statements in your designs from Shirley Chisholm’s campaign in ’72 to the People’s Free Food Program. How does the current political climate of America inspire your work?
Thank you! A lot of communities are under attack right now due to proposed legislation and policies being implemented by the current administration. Our work, to me, is to create a space for those who are most under attack to feel supported until we can change the policies that are currently being rolled back. I thought it was important to shift our tone to one that was historical in nature in that it 1.) provides context for the current climate and 2.) demonstrates that vulnerable communities have been under attack before and we have found successful ways to get through it.
Now, one of my favorite pieces of yours is the James Baldwin sweatshirt – absolutely obsessed! While paying homage to such great Black writers such as Baldwin and Ellison are becoming popular amongst clothing brands when it comes to quotes, what told you that James Baldwin was someone that you absolutely had to include in your collection?
I think the truth has a certain sound to it. It rings true. His work is like that. When you read his essays you see how he was able to articulate our suffering so poignantly. He stood up for the black community and sought accountability from America. He had and has a deep understanding of the racial and class systems that perpetuate harm on so many of us.
Malcolm X once said, “The most disrespected woman in America, is the Black Woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black Woman. The most neglected person in America, is the Black Woman”. However, one of your shirts encourages your audience to “Thank Black Women”. How do you feel Black women are being underserved in the community and what was the importance of communicating that through your medium?
The Thank Black Women shirt is only necessary because the labor of black women is so frequently overlooked. Since we exist at the intersection of two oppressed groups (both women and blackness) we are able to see flaws in the systems. People should listen to us more. We’ve had to work very hard to be seen and heard. And I think that shows. Black women are one of the fastest rising groups of business owners. In 2016 we were the most educated group in the US. In my opinion, that was born out of necessity. Black women turn out at a higher rate than other women and other people in the black community. And yet, there are 64.000 missing black girls in the United States. I’m not implying that there should be a meritocracy to civil rights. But, despite the best efforts of black women, we are consistently and systemically undervalued.
What was the importance of hip-hop culture in your designs and how do you directly correlate that with the messages you display in your work?
I don’t think there is a direct influence outside of the way that culture is carried in music. I think that there are some specific themes that may overlap. Philly rapper Meek Mill is doing a lot of work around mass incarceration. Master P preaches self-reliance on Solange’s album A Seat at the Table. The Carters say that they’re good on any MLK Blvd. I think in the way that they speak primarily to the black community and don’t acknowledge the white gaze we can find a similarity.
As a leading print-workshop in your area and highly respected around the country, what advice would you have for any budding Black entrepreneurs with a message they want to convey to their audiences?
Be authentic and honest about your motivations. That will give you the blueprint for how to handle any dilemmas that arise.
Maryam can be found on Instagram, @MaryamPugh_ and, you can also shop the brand now available for purchase online and on Instagram @PhilaPrint and @PhilaPrintWorkshop or https://philadelphia-printworks.myshopify.com/collections/products .