More Than a Transaction: Shopping Tailored to You at Chris James

By Emily Coppella

Chris James | 253 Ontario Street | Website

Christine Ray-Bratt is clear about her business philosophy: “Everything is drawn from value.” At her boutique, Chris James, you’ll find more than clothing and accessories. This is because Chris James believes that asking customers to purchase an item is asking for their faith, so they make sure that every shopping experience is tailored to the individual.

The boutique has offered over 135 brands in their 10 years along with a variety of services. This season their 2,400+ square foot space houses over 60 global clothing brands. Other services offered include personal styling appointments, wardrobe consultations, a custom-cut men’s suiting program, group fittings, and alterations.

Christine has strict rules about carrying brands that are sustainable, ethical, and Canadian as much as possible. We spoke with her about how she approaches curating such an extensive selection of products to fit her “global community citizen” mindset.

“If I’m going to ask somebody to come in and buy a black sweater, let’s say, for the season, I want to make sure that it’s the one that I feel the most confident about, both in terms of value for the product, value for the price, and value for time spent with longevity because I want to make sure that it’s going to last you for the price you feel you paid for it. In terms of curating, we have solid relationships with the vendors that we work with. They back up their product, they stand behind it.”

The key in the curation is that Chris James carries pieces that are classic, yet contemporary – forward fashion brands like Bugatti, Ted Baker, and Marella sit next to classic ones such as Part Two, Tommy Bahama, and Autumn Cashmere – offering pieces and looks that work with each other for a variety of occasions and style needs. Christine studies international fashion markets to ensure customers purchase items that they’ll be excited to have in their wardrobe for years to come. The boutique team puts the same level of detail and care into their customer service.

“I am a big proponent of leading by example. I come from a corporate background with a larger-scale philosophy of team leading and although I’m not a micromanager, it’s about training somebody to be able to achieve excellence within what they do and then giving them free reign to excel within the environment. We constantly have team meetings. We also have a weekly report where we highlight how a team member excelled at bringing a service level to a customer. Sometimes it can be something as simple as, ‘I made sure that a failure point that was about to happen didn’t happen’ [or] ‘We had somebody who just didn’t feel comfortable coming into the store so I threw together a package and drove it over to their house.’”

Although Christine admits this behaviour has become more popular since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she believes this business ideology is not necessarily commonplace. For Chris James, the philosophy of “what would the customer want” is second nature.

If you watch one of Chris James’ videos – shared to their Instagram and Facebook – you might be pleasantly surprised by the level of detail Christine supplies in a voiceover. The videos introduce new brands the store is carrying or highlight staples pieces to help you build a spring wardrobe. A staff member models the clothing, allowing viewers to see how a garment moves on a real person. Christine reminds viewers of washing instructions, accommodations for different shapes and sizes, and the quality of the fabric. It’s part of the store’s philosophy to allow customers to shop with as much education and understanding as possible but these videos have also been a way to connect with customers while in-person interactions were limited due to COVID-19. This level of service and care is why people keep returning to Chris James and Christine.

“I continue to be surprised by how supportive people are. Whether it was the first wave, second wave, third wave, we’ve had customers come in and buy a gift certificate and then have subsequently bought something online and I’ve said, ‘Remember you have that gift certificate to use. Do you want me to just apply it?’ and they’re like, ‘Oh god no, I ripped that up. I just bought it to support you.’ It just humbles you. It humbles you to think there are people out there that so strongly believe in you.”

Christine was born in Kingston and raised here and in Hong Kong. Her husband is also from Kingston and they raised their children here surrounded by family. She is proud of her hometown’s great community and having her boutique situated in the heart of the city cultivates even more pride.

“We have a very vibrant downtown which doesn’t exist in a lot of other communities…It energizes you, to see what’s happening. Especially through COVID, we all have difficult times where we think, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but it’s re-energizing to know that there is a group of people who are there for you, like other business owners locally that I connect with…In Kingston, you have a whole city that you feel a sense of community with. It’s definitely different. That belief in value, sustainability, buy Canadian, better quality products, buy less but buy better, is a whole Kingston thing.”

Christine is passionate about the fact that you can get all that you need in one small area in downtown Kingston, along with great food and entertainment. That small-town energy carries over into her boutique. From partnering with St. Lawrence College and Queen’s University to engage students in business and marketing or providing one-on-one service in-store, Christine believes Chris James is a “community within a community.” Her customer interactions are not simply transactions, but relationships that her team works to grow one customer at a time.