Calling all thrifting fanatics: the family–owned Urban Exchange Project, located right in the heart of Fishtown, is your one–stop–shop for fun vintage pieces and affordable secondhand finds.
Famous for their fill–a–bag sales, which allow customers to fill a 16–by–16 inch bag with items from the store’s lower level for just $30, Urban Exchange Project has made a name for itself in the Philly secondhand market scene since its 2016 opening.
Jenna, one third of the Gorman family team that runs Urban Exchange Project, describes their specialty as secondhand clothing and accessories with a "fresh and funky" vibe. The store itself is split into two levels: a basement full of name–brand used items and a main floor showcasing curated vintage finds and handmade pieces.
Aside from the bag sales, Urban Exchange Project’s biggest claim to fame is its selection of upcycled pieces. Jenna explains that an influx of clothing with potential for a new look inspired Urban Exchange Project to debut their upcycled collection. “When we were getting pieces that I still saw value in, and maybe had a blemish, it was just a no–brainer that we would upcycle it,” she said.
These handmade pieces, often bleached and painted items by Jenna and her brother, Jake Gorman, are available in the upper level of the store. Jenna, who is in charge of curating pieces for the bleached collection, and her brother, who produces the painted collection, were partly inspired by their parents to start upcycling imperfect articles.
“My dad, growing up, was an artist,” Jenna explains. “When he would come home from working, he’d rub paint all over his pants.” Jake uses these scenes from their childhood as inspiration for Urban Exchange Project's painted collection, which includes a line of clothing featuring painted faces and multicolored paint splatters.
Unfortunately, the pandemic threw a wrench into the store's operations, much like it did for other local businesses. In March, Urban Exchange Project had to close its physical location and switch to an online marketplace—a change that was difficult to adapt to their usual business model.
The Gormans put all of their energy into transferring all of their inventory onto their website and marketing flash sales on their Instagram. A quick scroll through their site reveals rare vintage graphic tees and funky patterned pants or dresses, all now available for online purchase.
But the transition was difficult to square with the store’s ethos: “Our [usual] customer doesn’t identify with online shopping as much as somebody who’s purchasing new clothes,” Gorman explains. “So there’s a bit of a barrier.” For avid secondhand shoppers, the touch and feel of a garment is critical to deciding whether to purchase, which is not replicable in a virtual world.
Fortunately, Urban Exchange Project was able to reopen their lower level in June, although sadly without their signature fill–a–bag sales. Instead, everything for sale out of the basement is only $3, so you can still get amazing deals—minus the large crowds that the bag sales used to attract.
If you’re a thrifter in the Philly area, be sure to pay a visit to Urban Exchange Project. And, if you stop by on a Wednesday with your student ID, you can score an extra 20% off. Otherwise, check out their vintage offerings on their website and be on the lookout for special sales via their Instagram story.
Location: 2050 Frankford Ave.
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.