1.Tell us about the mastermind(s) behind PPW. Where did you go to school? Where do you currently reside? Are your backgrounds rooted in art or design?
Philadelphia Printworks was founded in 2010 by myself, Maryam Pugh, and Ruth Paloma Rivera-Perez. Neither of us had any artistic technical training. But, we were both very creative people who were passionate about social justice. Ruth had some experience with the DIY community and I was very interested in learning. We taught ourselves how to screen print and that was the beginning.
Ruth left in 2012 and I have continued to run the company since then with an extremely passionate and supportive team.
I attended Cheyney University of PA, an HBCU in suburban Pennsylvania. There I received an undergraduate degree in Computer Science. Afterwards I completed my master’s degree at DeVry University, majoring in Computer and Information Systems with a concentration in Programming Languages. I am now a Senior Test Engineer at Oracle, Inc. and I currently reside in Ardmore, PA.
Co-Founder and CEO Maryam Pugh
2. I love to hear stories about inspiration. I love to understand what sparks an idea. For me, they are like conversations with God. Holy moments. What was the moment like in which PPW was conceived?
That moment was pretty magical. Ruth and I met through mutual friends and immediately clicked. We were interested in so many of the same things: DIY culture, screen printing, social justice and business. We used the enthusiasm behind these similarities to fuel our drive and ambition over the next few years. That partnership really made PPW possible.
3. Can you explain the curation process behind your collections? Is the idea conceived first then the artists are seeked out? Do artists present their ideas to you? Explain the collaborative process.
The collaborative process is very flexible. I’ve worked with a number of artists and social justice activists in all different ways. The creative process is developed based on the needs of the project. One of the reasons I got into screen printing was because of my own desire for a creative and artistic outlet. So, when possible, I try to do the designs in-house. Unfortunately or fortunately, I have a lot of hats to wear. So, I’m not able to devote as much time to the creative process as I would like. If I have a concept that I feel is outside the breadth of my own skillset or calls for a different aesthetic, I’ll enlist an artist that I feel can execute the vision.
On the other hand, there are also artists who I come across on social media who are amazing and who care about social justice. When I find that combination I usually reach out to them and ask them if they’d be interested in a collaboration. If they agree, I ask them to choose the theme and they handle the concept and design from there. In those cases, once the designs have been finalized we usually collaborate on the remaining art direction required for the launch of the products (i.e. photoshoot, etc).
So, sometimes the idea comes first. Sometimes the artist comes first. Sometimes the activist comes first.
James Baldwin Tee
Flux Comic “Genderqueer” Collaborative Tee
4. In what ways do you feel clothing/self adornment can be revolutionary?
Fashion is a message. The clothing people choose to wear and how they choose to adorn themselves reflect their personality and the things they care about. Philadelphia Printworks is an extension of that.
It is also revolutionary to support black owned businesses. Cooperative economics is something that is important to me and something that I prioritize when seeking partnerships.
Philadelphia Printworks also invests 10% of the proceeds from the majority of our products to organizations tied to the theme of each design. Organizations who are on the ground doing work that needs to be supported both financially and socially.
5. Did you have any experience in business before the launch of Philadelphia Printworks? Has it been hard to balance quality content, accessible price points and making a profit? What has been your greatest lesson in business thus far?
I did not and that was also one of the reasons we decided to launch a clothing line. Starting a t-shirt company requires a low initial financial investment compared to many other ventures. It’s more accessible than starting a restaurant, a food truck or owning property. So, we were eager to learn as much about the entire landscape of what it means to own a clothing line in terms of both business and creativity.
As Philadelphia Printworks continues to grow I am becoming more and more aware of profit margins. Providing a product to as many people as possible without sacrificing quality is one of my major concerns. As we begin to expand to stores I’ve had to find ways to make our production costs more efficient. It’s an ongoing process. But, one that I’m constantly aware of.
I think I probably learned the most last holiday season when our School of Thought line launched. The popularity of that collection was like nothing we had ever seen. Absorbing everything that comes with that popularity was challenging. But, I learned from it and made adjustments. Since then we’ve employed 2 new customer service people and we’ve hired a social media editor and a blog editor. The greatest lesson, so far, has been that you can’t do everything by yourself. Surrounding yourself with talented, responsible and passionate people is paramount to operating a successful company.
6. I am always curious as to what folks are rocking to musically these days. What albums do you have on repeat most recently?
Hmmm… great question. I’m currently going through an Afro-Beat phase. I recently discovered the Lijadu Sisters, identical twins from Nigeria who were big during the 70’s. They were known as Africa’s Pointer Sisters. I really like the song “Orere-Elejigbo”.
I’m also stuck on Opposite People by Fela Kuti. I have that and Follow Follow on repeat. I am truly amazed at how we’ve found a way to continue to document our struggle through what I would consider oral tradition. It’s really beautiful.
Finally, I have to mention The Budos Band, “T.I.B.W.F.” and “Magus Mountain”. And “Bra” by Cymande which was made popular on the soundtrack for Crooklyn.
7. How have you each grown individually as artists/humans with PPW? What are you most proud of about yourself?
I’ve grown a lot. I think in a lot of ways the evolution of PPW has been a direct evolution of my own personal maturity in both business and social justice critique. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately learning about strategies of liberation. I’ve been studying cases of successful revolution. It’s very empowering. I hope to apply these strategies to the future of PPW.
8. Do you each have a favorite collection from PPW? If so, why?
I love them all. They’re all my babies, lol. It’s hard to pick one. We have shirts from the beginning that aren’t even on our website. Shirts about Fracking and shirts about MOVE. Shirts against Monsanto. They’re all close to my heart.
“Cats Against CatCalling”
In Collaboration with artist Alain Ewins this line addresses street harassment
“School Of Thought”
Designed by PPW and Mars Five, this line imagines universities established on black genius such as Harriet Tubman, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Ida B. Wells and Marcus Garvey.
“The Pre-School of Thought”
A Collaboration with Eryn Amel
“The Lavender Collection”
Celebrates feminist women of color. A collaboration between PPW and Diata Crystal
9. Why Philly? Do you find Philly to be a progressive city? Is there a spirit or movement or awareness that is central to Philly that you all feel is reflective of the PPW brand?
I’m from Coatesville, PA, a small town 45-minutes outside of Philadelphia. I moved here after graduating from college and after having my daughter. Her father is from here. That’s why I moved here.
But, I stayed because there’s a lot of opportunity and history in Philly. It’s situated perfectly between DC and NY which provides a built in extended community. The artistic community here is very welcoming. Artists such as Paul Robeson, Nina Simone and Thelonius Monk have spent time here. In my experience, people here love to work with each other and partner on projects. If you want to do something there’s nothing stopping you from doing it. Anyone can have an event. Anyone can start a band. There are a few cliques. But, I’m sure that’s probably true everywhere.
10. Where do you see the brand going in 5 years? Do you see expansion outside of clothing?
Philadelphia Printworks will stay primarily focused on t-shirts. But, we will also begin to incorporate additional products such as buttons, stickers and posters. I’m also considering a quarterly news publication of the articles from our blog. I think it’d be great to see the articles in print, offline and in the hands of people who don’t spend a lot of time online. We’re also launching an online electronic zine distro.
We’ve been focused mainly on mobilization for the past few years. At some point I will shift my attention back to community outreach and organizing. As I learn more about strategies of liberation I’ll try to apply them to on-the-ground organizing events.
Thank you for taking the time to ask me these questions. I love your platform and I am grateful for this opportunity.
Nah, thank you Maryam!
If you want to purchase from this bomb ass brand check out the website
and if you want to get all of your intellectual and activist life, check out Philadelphia Printworks blog. (Aspiring writers may feel free to submit their works as well)