Kimberly James bridal shop has new home on the Avenue

by Len Lear
Posted 6/13/24

Kimberly James, owner of the eponymous Chestnut Hill bridal boutique that until recently was situated at 15 W. Highland Ave., has a new home at 8333 Germantown Ave.

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Kimberly James bridal shop has new home on the Avenue


Kimberly James, owner of the eponymous Chestnut Hill bridal boutique that up until recently was situated at 15 W. Highland Ave., has a new home. As of May 1, it is now at 8333 Germantown Ave.

"My lease was up on Highland Avenue," James said, "and I needed more room. I hired an in-house seamstress, and it was always my goal to be on the Avenue.”

Growing up in Roxborough, James, now 38, earned a degree in fashion design at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. "The classes were a little intimidating because I had no prior experience in sewing, and my classmates had been whipping up prom dresses at Hallahan High School (near Center City)," she said. "But I loved it. Sewing is a dying art. Since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be in fashion."

James' first job was a stroke of good luck. "I worked at Prom Girl, an e-commerce prom dress manufacturer in East Falls. At first, I worked in customer service and learned what shoppers wanted. Then, when the company expanded to a wholesale business model, I became involved in designing and went to China to source fabrics. I spent about a week in China and loved it. Very fast pace."

In April 2019, almost one year to the day before the pandemic hit, James realized her entrepreneurship dream by opening her own Chestnut Hill shop, Kimberly James Bridal Boutique, in the space formerly occupied by Sherlock's Hair Salon on Highland Avenue.

"My store's name was really getting out there and thriving," said James, "and then, boom, we had to shut down because of Covid. And being a mom and running a business with two small children makes mom guilt tough. Trying to practice a work-life balance."

James had to close down for three months, although she continued to show gowns to prospective customers via Zoom. But now in the new shop on the Avenue, James offers a wide range of gowns ranging mostly from $1,000 to $4,000, with a few samples under $1,000.

Do brides-to-be usually check out lots of gowns? "It's mixed," said James. "I have the bride who hates shopping, so she decides on her first visit, or I have the bride who needs to visit a lot of stores to find the one before making her decision."

Apparently, customers like what they see. 

"From the moment I met Kim, she made my experience absolutely a dream," said Brianna McKinney, of Roxborough, who was married on April 27 of this year. "She was our first stop during my dress search, and I ended up finding the one after trying on a bunch of different options. She carries so many beautiful gowns for all body types and preferences. Every penny we spent on my dress was worth it because of how special Kim made me feel and how wonderful of an experience my mom and I had for such a huge moment in my life."

James' top-selling designer is Madi Lane, of Australia, who is known for her bold floral prints. About 30% of James' customers are having lesbian weddings. Her best-selling style is the strapless sweetheart neckline, "but for silhouette, we are moving into A-line."

Interestingly, James admits that brides are spending less now on gowns and more on the bridal experience. "Brides are price-savvy," she said. "This generation pays for the wedding themselves, so where they can save money and allocate elsewhere, they will. Couples want the wedding to be fun, with great food and great entertainment. The dress is still important, just not at the top of the list."

James, who designed her own wedding gown, was married on May 30, 2020, but because of Covid did not have a wedding reception until June 18, 2021. Still a Roxborough resident, James wants to publicly say "a special thanks to my husband, Michael Iraci, for always pushing me to follow my dreams and having my back." The couple have two children, Mila, 3, and Nicolas, 1.

Stacia Friedman contributed to this article. 

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