Philadelphia Business Transitions Into the Digital Economy Amid Pandemic

"School of Thought" collection, photo courtesy Philadelphia Printworks

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many in-person activities to go online. This has also impacted businesses including Black-owned ones to shift to an online presence. 


“The welfare and wellbeing of my team became my highest priority and I immediately kicked into damage control,” Maryam Pugh said, the cofounder of Philadelphia Printworks, in relation to the pandemic.


Philadelphia Printworks is a native Philly business focusing on social justice and screen-printing workshops. It began 11 years ago, with Pugh and then business partner Ruth Perez, who left after two years. Pugh continued to grow the business. Their main goal is to amplify the voices of marginalized communities through their apparel and screen-printing workshops.


“We were able to keep our team on board for about a month, then furlough them for two months, and afterwards set up an employee emergency fund. The fund was to raise money and supplement their incomes as much as possible,” Pugh said.


When Black protests increased across the nation during the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor cases, Pugh had to shut her business orders down emporarily due to the increased demand for the company’s services .


“The sudden attention that shifted to the Black community was again on a scale we have never seen,” Pugh said.


“Because of the amount of orders that time [Summer 2020] we received in two weeks what we made in a year…we had to shut down our store,” she continued.


The business was very small before the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, Pugh emphasized they would receive an order and it will print within seven days. Afterwards is when it would ship, so after the pandemic and the protests that followed many issues surfaced. Some of those included mailing and supply chain issues.


“The only reason why I was prepared was because before I started my business, I worked in the computer field for ten years…I was already very familiar with making a webpage, having all of the automated tools to help with the backend of the processes,” Pugh said.


 Community efforts are keeping some older Black businesses afloat in learning how to make that leap into the digital economy. Pugh mentions how younger people are helping Black and Brown small businesses and offering programs to do the online transition for them.


The future of Philadelphia Printworks is promising, and new collections are expected to arrive within the next six months.


“I’m seeing what feels right as we feel the pulse of what’s happening in the country politically trying to create and maintain a firm foundation within the business where we can whither anything that might happen.”