Arts / Social justice

This Oracle engineer runs one of Philly’s buzziest fashion brands

Maryam April Pugh turned to printmaking because she felt burnt out by her tech career. Now she's doing spots on MSNBC. How's that for a side hustle?

A Philadelphia Printworks original honoring James Baldwin. (Courtesy photo)
Full Disclosure: The author of this story, Melissa Simpson, writes for the Philadelphia Printworks blog.

Maryam April Pugh is the woman behind one of Philadelphia’s buzziest socially conscious brands, Philadelphia Printworks.
Since 2010, Philadelphia Printworks has been producing hoodies, T-shirts and jackets which that highlight feminism, Black literature, the abolishment of street harassment and the Black Panthers Free Food Program. In the last 12 months, the brand has been featured on Buzzfeed, MSNBC and MTV for its line of collegiate-inspired sweatshirts that imagine what it would be like if Black intellectuals got their due. We highlighted Pugh’s line in our holiday gift guide.
In addition to being the cofounder and CEO of Philadelphia Printworks, during the day, Pugh, who goes by April, works as a senior software test engineer at Oracle. She’s been with the company for almost a decade now. Technically Philly got to sit down and chat with April where we discussed the future of Philadelphia Printworks, working with Oracle and how she is able to successfully blend the two.


Tell me about your background and how you got into printmaking.
For undergrad, I went to Cheyney University, I went for their computer science degree. After that, I did an online degree program through DeVry University where I got my masters in information systems management. Through them, they had a career placement program that was able to put me in touch with Oracle. At the time it was called Primavera. I got hired at Primavera. About two years later, they were bought by Oracle. That is kind of how I got involved into the software side of things.
The print working thing was my own person endeavor, something that I found interesting. I was looking for an outlet for my creative side because I felt like I was getting a little bit burned out with the logical side of software and programming. I found T-shirt printing and about six years ago, I met [my Printworks cofounder] Ruth Paloma Rivera Perez. We kind of hit it off and we were both very interested in screen printing, social justice, and the T-shirt business. We fed off of each other’s energy and taught ourselves how to screenprint, then we created Philadelphia Printworks.


Maryam April Pugh says she uses agile methodology in running her business. (Courtesy photo)

What do you do at Oracle?
I am a software test engineer. I develop testing plans for features and functionality for software. That may include automated testing, which can go across certain areas as performance testing, accessibility testing, functionality testing and regression testing.
What made you want to pursue a career in the tech field?
It was a suggestion made by my parents. My parents were very big on the whole technology and computer industries. At the time that I went to college, it was right before the dot-com bust. I graduated college before that really became an issue for me.
What is one of your favorite pieces from the PPW?
I guess the Panther design. I like that one a lot because it gets a lot of positive feedback. I think that one is closer to my heart because I did that design myself, and it is popular, so it is kind of like validation for me. I’m not just a business person, I also have a creative side.
What are you working on for PPW now?
We are working on increasing our online presence through some of the articles and conversations being had there and being a safe space for discussions. We are going to be releasing a “Paul Robeson University” design, which is an expansion of the School of Thought collection that we came out with in December of last year. We are also going to do a School of Thought Part Two which is going to continue the story of the same universities but this time with mascots, T-shirts, hats, and things like that. I also will have my own collection that I will be working on I can nourish my creative side. We are trying to increase our social media presence and just be as effective as possible in the community and look for opportunities to do so.
What propelled PPW to create a line for children?
Baby Printworks started because a lot of people were like, “Is this available in children’s sizes?” So I knew that there was a lot of interest there. As a brand, it is definitely important to keep a certain style and aesthetic. But I definitely think that in movement building, revolution and creating spaces of what we want the world to look like, I think that it is important to include children in that as well. Not only was it a great opportunity for us to sell shirts, it was also important from a mission perspective as well.

From PPW’s “School of Thought” line. (Courtesy photo)

Are there any similarities with you work at PPW and your work with Oracle?
I feel like one of the reasons that I have been able to be so effective and successful as a business person is because of the project management skills that I have learned at my job. We actually make project management software, so doing agile methodology and working with teams and seeing how team dynamics work  those are all things that I take and apply to my business.
What is a typical day for you? How do you split your time between PPW and Oracle?
It’s really difficult to find time to do everything. It comes down to time management. I’m pretty much ALWAYS doing something. So, even setting aside time for self-care is something I have to explicitly do. A typical day for me would be waking up, checking my email, checking all of Philadelphia Printwork’s social media, focusing on Oracle, greeting my daughter once she gets home from school, helping her with her homework, finishing my Oracle work, and then … in the evening, focusing on Philadelphia Printworks again. Normally, I’ll try to balance that with a movie or something with family. But, during the week, that’s basically what I have to do. The weekends are a little bit better.
I’ve been trying to build and expand the PPW team, who make my job a lot easier, and interacting with them is something that I do throughout the day. I also work from home, part of the time, for Oracle so that also gives me the flexibility that I would probably not otherwise have.

Companies: Oracle

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