Maryam Pugh is the co-founder of Philadelphia Print Works, an apparel brand inspired by past and present social justice movements. The shop recently created clothing to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the AFRO, the longest-running African-American family-owned paper in the U.S.

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,
msayles@afro.com

Founded by former software quality assurance engineer Maryam Pugh, Philadelphia Print Works is not like your regular T-shirt shop. 

It’s an independent clothing brand informed by previous and current social justice movements that designs apparel for activists, organizers and allies creating positive social change in their communities. 

Pugh, along with Ruth Paloma Rivera-Perez, established Philadelphia Print Works in 2011 after realizing that her job with computer software company, Oracle, was not fulfilling her personal passions. 

“I wanted something that was more creative, that I could work with my hands and be tactile with and that would allow me to be engaged with my community in a more politically-active way,” said Pugh. “I also had always been interested in starting my own business, so it just seemed like a T-shirt business was kind of the trifecta of all those things.” 

Maryam Pugh is the co-founder of Philadelphia Print Works, an apparel brand inspired by past and present social justice movements.

Pugh kept her job with Oracle but slowly began to develop Philadelphia Print Works. She started off making clothing for her family and friends, and eventually, grew to collaborate with local activists, organizers and grassroots and community organizations on fundraising and advocacy efforts. 

It was not until 2018, that Pugh decided to leave Oracle to pursue Philadelphia Print Works full-time. At that point, the shop was experiencing substantial growth and the political climate was becoming increasingly polarized following the election of President Donald Trump. 

“I realized I could no longer be silent and that, in some ways, I was hustling backwards,” said Pugh. “I had this company that was wanting to be all of these things, but then, day to day, my choices weren’t aligning with my political ideologies, so I made the choice to do this full-time.”

From its inception, Philadelphia Print Works was intentionally political, according to Pugh. Initially, it would create apparel reflecting the political issues that mainstream media and news outlets publicized, but now, the shop is primarily driven by the interests of the community, amplifying the voices of the marginalized.  

The shop recently created clothing to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the AFRO, the longest-running African-American family-owned paper in the U.S.

Throughout the years, Philadelphia Print Works has provided clothing for the National Bail Out Collective’s Mama’s Day Bail Outs, March to End Rape Culture and the Philadelphia Black Women’s March. 

Most recently, Philadelphia Print Works designed apparel for the AFRO to celebrate its 130th anniversary and historical legacy. 

Pugh thinks T-shirts can often be dismissed or overlooked as a form of protest and advocacy, but there is power in seeing someone wearing clothing adorned with political messages. Just the presence of it can indicate to people whether a space is safe for them or not. 

She also thinks it takes courage to wear political clothing because it can lead to burdensome conversations, and even violence.

“I just feel a very deep, deep responsibility to this work. I think that every person who is from a marginalized community is doing the work in some way…that is the curse of racism, sexism, homophobia, that we have to be conscious of this all of the time,” said Pugh. “I don’t have any choice but to do the work.”

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