Biba Boutique | Bringing European Fashion to Downtown Kitchener for Over Five Decades

By Jane Pinzhoffer | Photography by Al isha Townsend

Joan Ibbotson is a legend in the K-W fashion industry. Biba Boutique has been the epicenter of high-end women’s apparel since its opening in 1967. What started in a small 9’ x 12’ store has evolved into a stunning 4,000 square foot space complete with floor-to-ceiling windows and a spacious mezzanine overlooking Joan’s hand-picked selection of impeccably coordinated designer clothes.

Covid hit the retail industry hard. As it spread throughout the community, Joan and her team quickly pivoted to continue serving Biba customers and the wider community. She initiated in-store private appointments while diligently adhering to all public health regulations. This initiative has grown exponentially and is now a strong focus for Joan’s ongoing and continuing success. Joan also lost many key staff at this time, potentially creating a stressful situation for her and the business. Luckily, her son Warren rose to the challenge, taking on the role of Business Office Manager, overseeing all the financial responsibilities of the business.

“Warren was the catalyst in the development of Biba’s home delivery program and is frequently seen escorting customers with their purchases to their vehicles. He is hands-on, working closely with the Sales Associates, providing them with encouragement and guidance. I am extremely proud of my son and how he continues to support the culture of care and service that is Biba,” says Joan.

A personal stylist extraordinaire, this extreme level of personalized care and customer service has been key to Joan’s success. By the age of 15, she was working in an upscale boutique in Sheffield, England, where customers were served tea while she presented the latest fashions for their approval.

Joan’s clientele is devoted to the unique and personalized Biba shopping experience. She has women she ships clothes to regularly who she hasn’t seen for decades. Joan knows her regular customers’ tastes and lifestyles to such an intimate extent that when a new piece arrives from Montreal or Europe, she knows exactly who it will suit.

“I love to dress women. It really comes from the heart. People who’ve never been in the store before are amazed at who I am and what I do,” says Joan. “I’m always updating with new lines, always changing, like fashion is always changing. The fabric in European lines never goes out of style or out of date. You can wear it for 20 years or longer. I’ve built up a business on earning people’s trust and have customers who’ve been with me for 55 years.”

Joan has been instrumental in developing, maintaining, and supporting excellence in customer service. Her relentless dedication and hard work are highlighted through the strong support of her customers and the community, but her true passion is her ongoing commitment to working closely with the changing needs and desires of all women.

Joan’s customers dread the day she retires. But that day seems a long way off. “I’m not going to retire as long as I can do it. I’ll keep going as long as I can. The only concession she’s made is cutting back the store hours to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Monday to Friday, although she’s usually on the phone with suppliers and customers before and after hours. Joan occasionally opens on Saturdays for special appointments or ‘fashion emergencies,’ as it says on Biba’s website.