Walking along North Neil Street in Downtown Champaign, a women’s clothing store sits amidst restaurants and coffee shops, donning unique storefront decor in the window and featuring mannequins wearing fun, contemporary pieces. It’s Circles Boutique, which has been locally-owned by Danelle Jameson since 1998. Originally housed a street over in the same building as Café Kopi, Circles has been a downtown Champaign staple since 1993. Circles offers high-quality global fashions and accessories that can be in your closet for decades and would otherwise be hard to find in Champaign-Urbana.
I call Jameson on the phone while she is in the shop to talk about how Circles came to be and how the boutique adjusted during recent COVID-19 restrictions (and more recently, reopenings). During the call, I hear her heartily greet every customer that walks into the shop in between answering my questions to let customers know she’s there if they need anything. She’s a talker, she says, and loves to give personalized shopping help and fashion advice for customers. She’s been doing lots of that in the form of “text shopping” lately to give advice from a safe distance. She often posts #ootd (outfits of the day) on her Instagram account to give followers and shoppers inspiration. Her posts often include the term “circling,” a verb she’s coined to describe her work of selecting and buying pieces worldwide and working on-site at the boutique.
Although Circle’s collections are carefully selected and curated each season, Jameson says that the opportunity to open her boutique happened purely by chance: “It just kind of happened. I didn’t set out to own a store. I was just in the right place at the right time. I really enjoyed managing a store and learning all about the different fashion aspects of buying and selling. It happens in levels that can go through from anything from vintage markets to solid designers to the big fashion houses in Europe. They all function differently. Really, it just kind of opened up an avenue that I enjoy.”
Originally from Decatur, Jameson’s studies at University of Illinois in art history influenced her interest in fashion: “It definitely honed the skills to see how things are put together and to understand the design aspects of different clothing; how things drape on the body obviously has 3D aspects to it. And I’ve always been really, really interested in buying fabric. So, learning different ways of weaving fabric and different ways of cutting it to make it do different things really intrigued me.”
Buying fabric and pieces for collections at Circles comes with lots of travel. Prior to the governor’s stay-at-home order in March, Jameson traveled regularly to fashion markets and trade shows in major US cities and international locations such as Bali, Indonesia to select and order small production fabric and fashions. Unfortunately, her markets in locations such as New York have been canceled for the year: “I’m not sure how I’m going to bring in a new spring line for next year because I usually go to New York in September, so it’s going to be done virtually. I don’t know how much I can do that. I need to touch the fabrics. Even though you can see the material online and guess what it feels like you’re never 100% sure until you can touch it. It’s a challenge.”
However, prior to COVID-19 restrictions, Jameson did purchase the fall line in advance. As for what’s in store for Circles’ upcoming fall line, Jameson is excited about a new boots line and a new scarf line produced in Africa with 90% of the profits and business going back to the women who design and create them. If you’re looking to start a wardrobe with high-quality and timeless pieces this fall, she has some tips on where to start. “I always start with finding a great pair of shoes, whether it’s just a sneaker or a great black boot that you will want to wear with everything in your wardrobe. It’s the perfect place to start to invest in something on your feet that will last for years. If you just get one or two pieces a year for five years, your whole wardrobe is things that go together and then will still be great for another ten years.”
Circles’ new website has been live and regularly uploading new items since March, though you are now welcome into Circles Boutique during regular business hours. The boutique is fully prepared with hand sanitizer at the front of the store and an in-store mask requirement. You’ll also see items you might not have access to on the website: “when you do come into the store, you’re going to see a ton more that I can’t put everything online. So it’s only 50% of what I have in-store is probably on the website.” However, Jameson says she understands that many have underlying health risks so she is happy to chat over phone or by email. Head in for a new and fresh addition to your wardrobe and you’ll be “circling” in no time.
114 N Neil St
Tu-Sa 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Top photo from Circles Boutique Facebook page.