Owning your own business isn’t for everyone. Some people were born for it, while others learned the ins and outs before venturing into the field. However, this wasn’t the case with Maryam Muhammad, who’s father and uncle(s) owned their own businesses while Maryam was growing up. Because of this, she developed the natural instincts needed to become an entrepreneur, and she was also able to receive the tutelage needed to understand the ins and outs of business starting from a young age.
Maryam’s father and uncle both had stores on 49th street. The uncle owned an auto mechanic parts store, while her father had more of a convenience store that had a variety of different items, including Islamic oils, incense, various jewelry, snacks and even clothing.
However, Maryam’s father didn’t have this store from the very beginning and didn’t get it until she was around 10 years old. When he first started out, while Maryam and her brother were still little, he used to go around making door-to-door sales. This allowed him to meet new people. Her father had friends that owned their own stores and would sometimes give them his products so that they could sell them. He’d also occasionally post up outside their stores to generate sales.
“Me and my brother were like his little employees,” Maryam recalled. She remembers her and her brother performing a multitude of various tasks to help their father with the business at the young ages of four and six. They would make trips to New York to buy items wholesale, take note of the items they were selling and price point them, breakdown bundles of incense, re-bottle the oils, and help their father take inventory.
Maryam’s father even incorporated his children into his door-to-door sales routine. When Maryam and her brother were still very young, their mother got sick. So instead of leaving them with their grandmother, who already had her hands full looking after his nieces and nephew’s children, he brought them with him to work. He’d incorporate them into how he sold his products, even allowing them to perform a sales pitch to customers.
Even though Maryam had started working at such a young age, she never felt that she lost anything from her childhood. In addition to working for her father, she still had activities, was able to be involved with her hobbies and maintained good grades in school. However, Maryam does believe that her upbringing has shifted the way that she views certain aspects of her life now that she is older.
“It made it kind of unique to build friendships,” Maraym stated, “I can build relationships, but building an actual friendship is difficult for me.” Her childhood made her a lot more business minded. No matter the event or situation, she is always thinking of ways to make money.
Maryam moved into owning her own business at 18, while she was in college at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. In fact, she started two businesses. Her first business was doing artwork for people under the name “Faaizah: Art & Design Movement”, laying out floor plans, print designs, and blogging. She remembers one of her first clients wanted a basketball themed barbershop. During this time, she was taking a class on store layout, so she was able to do his project for her class as well as get paid for it.
Maryam’s second business was through owning rental property. She and her brother were in the process of buying a house in Southwest. One day while her and her brother were talking with a realtor, he told them that if you have multiple properties, then one can pay for the other. Intrigued by this, Maryam went back to see the realtor again to get more information. From that she found out she could own multiple properties and be debt free. Maryam went back to her brother with this information and suggested they get another property, but he wasn’t interested in acting on it since he had already owned a house. Maryam however, acted on her own to secure another property, which she went on to rent out. Maryam had this property up until the mortgage crisis of 2008, afterwards, she stopped this business.
Around the same time as the mortgage crash, Maryam was re-shifting Faaizah. She was trying to grow her business and wanted to do more social media marketing, web development and online advertising. During this period of growing her business, she wanted to add partnerships with Google, Constant Contact and a few others. Though in order to do that, she had to rename Faaizah because of conflicts. This seemed to happen at a good time, because people were mistaking Faaizah for Maryam’s actual name. In fact, Faaizah means “win” and since her name was already being mistaken, the consultants suggested she name her business after her.
Maryam had discussed changing the business to her name with her brother(s), who agreed, and since she had already her logo, (a trademarked design she had developed in college, with the input from another friend), she was able to get the idea for her business’ current name, “Maryam’s Mark.”
Under the new name of Maryam’s Mark, Maryam expanded her business to include a much broader list of areas of expertise. With Maryam’s Mark, you can get help with graphic design, online marketing, web design, advertising, retail store design, creative/fine art, and much more.
Although Maryam lives in Philadelphia’s Southwest community, her business, Maryam’s Mark, does not have a physical location. It’s previous location was in Frankford, but was closed down around 2015-16 making Maryam’s Mark a strictly online business.
“There were a couple different reasons as to why,” Maryam stated. One of them being that some companies were so busy that they would ask Maryam (or someone from her team) to come to them. The other reason was that Maryam felt that they didn’t need this space, since customers barely came out to meet them — if at all. Maryam has customers who live in New York and elsewhere who she’s never even met before and they communicate over the phone. Because of this, having a space of their own became “unnecessary.”
Maryam’s idea for her business came about while she was in highschool. She attended Bartram Motivation when it was at 78th & Buist. During her time there, the school took out the typewriters and began replacing them with computers. Back then, not every student was able to get a computer and only one of these computers had access to the internet. Maryam was the lucky student chosen to work from this computer. It may have helped that Maryam already wrote for the school newspaper, and she had also gone through a Microsoft training prior and obtained her Microsoft certification(s) with her home computer.
“I was a little ahead of the majority, computer-wise, of my peers in school,” Maryam recalled. Because of this, when she accessed the computer with internet access during class, the teachers would give her extra work to do. With her added responsibilities, she typed, did typesetting, did the layout of the newspaper for the Bartram Times and she also did work for Bartash, which was the printing shop on 54th & Elmwood. While she was doing all these different things, she learned about graphic design, or by what it was formerly known as “desktop publishing”.
These experiences introduced Maryam into the world of Graphic Design. This, coupled with her artistic talent, led Maryam to believe that she would be an animator. However, during her first year of college at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, she encountered a roadblock on the path to becoming an animator. Her layout designs were coming out in a newspaper format unintentionally. So even when she created game layouts, the contents would still be formatted like a newspaper.
“I wouldn’t say it bothered my professors, but it’s what urged them to tell me to go into the Graphic Design department,” Maryam told me. This caused Maryam to switch into Graphic Design in her second semester.
Although Maryam had to undergo a change in her major, she still thinks of becoming an Animator one day. Along with her business, for the last two years, Maryam has also been working on her own comic book and is confident that it will be her next business venture. What started out as a doodle, became so much more after having people show interest and even having others offer to invest. Maryam has run into a few hiccups along the way, but has still been able to make progress on this project. She has a solid story and characters and hopes to have the comic book done sometime in the spring.
Maryam is looking towards the future as she begins to wrap up her comic. She hopes that the comic will make big waves and become a series. She’d like to see it become an animated movie, have toys, even become a video game and have her characters on her own clothing line. Though if these things come to fruition, Maryam plans to scale back what she does with Maryam’s Mark, leaving the rest to her team while she works her way towards becoming the next Pixar.
The Paschalville Partnership is a collaboration of organizations spearheaded by the Free Library of Philadelphia working to transform services for the community served by Paschalville Library, located in Southwest Philadelphia. Over the next year, the partnership is working with community members to make visible the primary building blocks for sustainable community development. The partnership’s work is grounded in the principles of Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), which intentionally builds on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions.