Philadelphia Printworks Ushers a New Consciousness With ‘School of Thought’ Collection
Audre Lorde. Marcus Garvey. Harriet Tubman. James Baldwin. Ida B. Wells. George Washington Carver. The names listed above are but a few of the most prolific and revolutionary Black leaders of the past who have contributed significantly in expanding the societal, economic and political territories of African-Americans and the those within the African Diaspora. However, Philadelphia Printworks, a screen printing company in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is making sure that the names, ideologies and morals of these transformative Black leaders are not only manifested in the present — but the thoughts of these historical giants are preserved and upheld for future generations to come.
By imagining the names of Black leaders as pillars of academic institutions, Philadelphia Printworks released the “School of Thought” collection, where the philosophies of leaders such as Lorde, Garvey, Tubman, Baldwin, Wells and Carver serve as the blueprints of educational enlightenment and curriculum. The collection envisions a new wave of consciousness; providing an innovative, fashion-forward outlet where individuals can embrace the intellectual prowess and power of their Black role-models, all the while doing so in a collegiate style and sweatshirt form.
Using fashion, art and design as catalysts for grander discussions on race, activism and social justice, the “School of Thought” collection reinforces an important notion: that though these Black leaders who are represented in the line have passed on, in wake of the racial tension plaguing America and the world, their words and thoughts are just as much needed today as they were before.
Leading the entrepreneurial and social activism spirit and scene in Philadelphia is Donte Neal, designer of the “School of Thought” collection and Maryam Pugh, owner and co-founder of Philadelphia Printworks. Heed Magazine chatted with Neal and Pugh to get the full scoop on the vision behind the collection.
Jaimee Swift: Tell me more about Philadelphia Printworks? How and why was it started? Why was this specific company so-needed in Philly?
Maryam Pugh: We started in 2011 and at that time, that was kind of right before we saw this wave in activism that has been sweeping across the country. We felt that we needed to be involved in a democratic process and we wanted to use Philadelphia Printworks as a way to get people more involved in what was going on in the world and the politics around them.
We were in Philadelphia, and at the time I started the company with Ruth Paloma Rivera-Perez. We were just really young, idealistic, and we thought it would be a really good way to affect our community around us; all the while trying to make it cool to be involved in these types of things. We wanted Philadelphia Printworks to have a purpose, a meaning, a message, while still trying to reach people that might not be interested in listening to NPR.
Donte Neal: I was not part of the creation of Philadelphia Printworks, but I was there to see it materialize to the print shop that they actually have now. I had a studio where they were doing their initial prints. It was really great to see people taking a responsibility of putting the word out about issues that needed to be talked about in the community and giving voices to people who usually don’t have voices.
There was a very big ‘fracking’ problem and I didn’t even know what ‘fracking’ was until Philadelphia Printworks. It is great that Philadelphia Printworks can reach a group of people who get their news differently.
JS: What was the creative impetus behind the “School of Thought” Collection?
DN: From my perspective, it is that through these people like [Marcus Garvey, Audre Lorde], and their ideas, their philosophies, morals, political, economical and educational moral values that could really help the youth that are going through the things that they are going through now; especially those that are politically active and seeking education in a way that they can help their own communities. In high schools, early child development and in everyday education, we are not taught about Marcus Garvey, we are not taught about James Baldwin, Audre Lorde or Ida B. Wells. We may get a little bit [of education about them] during Black History Month, but there is not a class about the ideas of Marcus Garvey and American industry or trade, you know? So, the collection helps youth and others who don’t get to see these names everyday or the education about them.
MP: A lot of people our age already embraced the collection because these are schools of thoughts that we were comfortable and aware of. Although these schools of thought don’t exist as physical institutions, they exist as abstract institutions in our minds — and people really got it from the gate. People were like, “Yeah, I go to that school of thought. I study this person.” The collection represents the double-consciousness of what we do in the African Diaspora and America because we are forced to have the American system of education and our own education system as well.
JS: How can fashion serve as a catalyst for social justice and activism? How does Philadelphia Printworks provide that platform for advocacy and social consciousness?
MP: Fashion is powerful and so is design and culture. Culture is living and breathing; it is something that is being continuously shaped by society. Philadelphia Printworks tries to use that and is aware of that and tries to mold culture and our society into a society that we would like to see and envision. We try to promote things that we think people should be paying attention to, listening to and we try to make that all digestible and in order to do that, we try to speak to the mainstream culture.
I would say that fashion is definitely a tool and that it is powerful — it is all encompassing and people care about it. When you combine that with activism or a message, it creates a think-tank and area for people to use that as a tool.
DN: Art and design have always been important to any political movement or any area of activism. All the way from propaganda — propaganda is used in wars, propaganda is used to massage the mind. Propaganda can change the minds of people subtlely. It has always been filled with activism, politics and culture. A lot of times, art and culture can be more concise, impactful and more direct than words and speech.
MP: There is a language, you know? There are certain things that people, we as society, we see archetypes, symbols, icons that are triggers. It is an easier way to speak to a larger group of people because people need to understand and they want to be able to associate with something that is familiar to them.
DN: Fashion is also an identifier. Fashion lets you make a statement and when you wear a shirt with that intention, you come across people that may like it and come across people who don’t. With fashion, you don’t even have to say a word and you just speak.
MP: And it also sparks conversation. When people see the shirts and they are like, “Oh, what does that mean?” if they don’t know already. It is really important to create a community of people that are like, “I am not the only one.” The collection has really helped us with that.
JS: What is in the future for Philadelphia Printworks?
MP: We definitely hope to expand the “School of Thought” line because we have received a lot of requests for other people who are just as equally important. One part of the mission of Philadelphia Printworks is to encourage a culture of activism and inclusion, which means that we are not only imagining a world of Black leaders for university names. We are also inclusive of other leaders of other cultures, communities and ethnicities as well and we might go in that direction.
We have drop two of the “School of Thought” collection in January, which will feature t-shirts, hoodies and baseball caps of the same leaders that we did drop one. We also plan on expanding to kids’ sizes as well and we are planning a collection for kids as well. The kids’ line is important because I have a child and when you go to these spaces for organizing and community building, kids are a part of the discussion. They should not be quarantined or pushed to the side.
DN: For the future, it is so important to think about how information travels through time. It is important to look at intellectuals from the past and their legacies and it is such an exciting thing to think about. For example, when you look at the show ‘A Different World’ and to see the diversity in Black people and it was so dope because opened up the door for normalcy in being oneself. You didn’t have to fit into a certain stereotype and you could be who you are and still claim your nationality, culture, creed, religion, whatever.
I think it is great to think about this because Philadelphia Printworks has an opportunity to broadcast into the future a safe space for people to get to know their history.
For more information about the “School of Thought” collection, please visit Philadelphia Printworks.
All Photos © 2015 Philadelphia Printworks