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July 10, 2018

An Urban Artisan from another land is making it work in the big city

Victoria MacBain, an immigrant, is achieving the American Dream with her new boutique in Old City

Fashion People
Urban Artisan Victoria MacBain/for PhillyVoice

Victoria MacBain shows off a handmade leather bag inside Urban Artisan boutique.

By many definitions, the pursuit of the "American Dream" equates to achieving success in one’s endeavors by working hard and eventually finding happiness. For immigrants, reaching this goal is even more challenging, what, with prejudices, language barriers, financial hardships and other hurdles they must clear before even finding their footing.

Right in Old City, we have a story of a woman from a tiny part of the world who came to Philadelphia, opened a small business a short while ago and is just beginning to taste the fruits of her labor. It’s one that you don’t see every day, but that now serves as an inspiration to others. 

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Meet Victoria MacBain. She's originally from Moldova, a small country in Eastern Europe (and formerly part of the Soviet Union) that's bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east and south. (You might not have even heard of it until now.)

MacBain, a wife and mother who now lives in Fishtown, moved to the U.S. in 2004 at the age of 21.

“I think that’s one of the reasons I started looking at opportunities to move to another country, because growing up, our financial situation was always difficult, and I knew the possibilities for me would be limited in [Moldova],” she said.

Victoria MacBain /for PhillyVoice

Inside Urban Artisan boutique.

At 35, she is the owner/operator of Urban Artisan, a boutique at 2nd and Market streets in Old City. 

MacBain specializes in handmade leather products – crafting wallets, wristlets, totes, toiletry and make-up bags, purses and bags, big and small, and women’s apparel. She also makes jewelry – the French provincial-inspired kind made with textile roses having a bohemian look and feel about them.

Urban Artisan celebrated its grand opening on April 14, and MacBain said she has enjoyed more and more customers in the store each day since. Although she just recently hired someone to work with her as a sales associate, she has been running the place up till now as a one-woman show. 

What got her started in this endeavor was jewelry-making. 

“I started making jewelry because it was an easy start for me. All I had to do was find the right components,” she said.

When I look back, it wasn’t hard because I knew the path wasn’t going to be easy to begin with."

“I wanted it to be something feminine and romantic, and I wanted it to be big and bold and colorful. So, one day, I just got all the materials together and started making jewelry. I gave them to my family and friends and they loved it, and so I realized I could make and sell them to other people.”

MacBain said her desire to start sewing and working with her hands started at a young age.

“I was probably 4 or 5 when I started sewing for my Barbie dolls. It’s funny this way, because I would sew the dresses and put them on my dolls and put them in my grandma’s window for other kids to see, and I would change the dresses pretty much every day, and I would look in the window to see who was looking – which is pretty much the same thing I do now,” she laughed.

“I make a dress. I put it in the window, and then I wait for people to look. And they do look, and they do come in, and they love it and it makes me happy.”

Victoria MacBain /for PhillyVoice

The facade of Urban Artisan boutique in Old City.

And she has loyal clients from all over. 

“There is so much to say about Victoria,” said Lori Johnson, a customer from Montgomery County.

“I’m an only child and I never wanted people to have what I had, so this is the place for me. If want to have great arm candy, be noticed immediately, and know that this is an original with not too many replicas, then you need to get to Urban Artisan boutique. The customer service, craft, and attention to detail that is put into making her bags – by far – is the best that I’ve seen….I’m so glad that the girls and I stumbled across this gem.”

“This is a breath of fresh air in Philly,” said Jamie Cardosi, who calls Center City home.

“The minute you walk into this lovely shop, you are surrounded by one-of-a-kind, handmade pieces. Victoria is not only the shop owner, but the creative designer of most of the items one will find…Be sure not to miss this hidden gem on Market Street.”

Victoria MacBain/for PhillyVoice

Handmade leather bags adorn the walls of Urban Artisan boutique at 2nd and Market streets in Old City.

For sale inside Urban Artisan are women’s clothing, jewelry, ceramics, pottery and small gifts, but MacBain's favorite thing to make are her leather bags. She works with a tanner (Tasman Leather) in Maine and imports it to Philadelphia.

“I personally pick the leather. I cut them. I sew them. Not a single thing goes unnoticed,” she said.

Before she came to Philadelphia, MacBain spent five years in Rehoboth Beach, Del. via a work visa. She did all sorts of odd jobs before she found her true passion, from working in a restaurant to a dog grooming salon, to serving coffee at a coffee shop to working at a water park.

Courtesy of Victoria MacBain /for PhillyVoice

Victoria MacBain poses with her handmade leather bags inside Urban Artisan boutique.

“[Rehoboth] was a nice, small, quiet town, but it wasn’t what I needed to pursue my dreams, so I moved to the big city [in 2009],” she said.

“For me, starting a business was a dream since I was a little girl....I wanted to make something with my hands and sell it to other people. I’ve gotten to this point where I always wanted to be. When I look back, it wasn’t hard because I knew the path wasn’t going to be easy to begin with. I never had high expectations. I just went with it.

“At this point, I’m very happy with what I have, but it is just the very beginning for me.”

Urban Artisan, located at 239 Market St., is open Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. With more help on board, MacBain will soon be able to extend those hours.