TAMPA — It's no secret that Tampa is not the fashion capital of the world.
Or the United States.
Or even Florida.
But businessman Jose Gomez and his wife, Mayra, a former model, have a loftier goal for the city better known for its strip clubs and Cuban sandwiches.
They want Tampa to be the Christian fashion center — where sexiness and modesty come together.
The showcase for this ambitious mission is Christian Fashion Week, which opens today with an International Day of Prayer for Art and Fashion, and wraps up next weekend on the runway.
“This is where we had the first international show, and it's where we will continue to have it,” Gomez says. “As it grows, we hope to bring it to several other locations, but this will always be home.”
The Odessa couple, who own a Web-based software company, spent two years planning and $25,000 to launch the inaugural Christian Fashion Week in Tampa last year. It ran two days and featured nine designers, runway shows, exhibitors, stylists and a noted fashion speaker.
That inaugural event was such a success that the Gomezes, along with co-founders and partners, Wil and Tamy Lugo, are taking another leap of faith in broadening its scope and reach.
Among the changes for the 2014 version: Expanding the event from two days to seven; launching a Christian fashion online boutique; a free public workshop with stylists and a free color analysis for participants; a VIP night sponsored by Models4 Jesus that brings together pastors and people in the fashion industry; and nearly double the number of designers showing off their creations on two nights of runway shows. ChristianPost.com, a faith-based digital news site, will be streaming most events live online, as will www.christianfashion week.com.
After being shut out of watching the swimsuit show at last year's event, men are now welcome to attend.
“We searched our souls on that one,” Gomez says. “And the feedback we got was that didn't send a good message.
“Were we saying that Christian men couldn't handle this, that they couldn't control themselves? So we've dropped that restriction.”
The couple are funding a big portion of the estimated $35,000 to stage the show and are hoping more sponsors will come on board. Since first developing this event, their data base has grown to 8,000 supporters in the fashion industry and Christian community.
Exactly what is Christian fashion? It's like any other fashion — trendy, classic or any other style — just without being provocative or trashy, Gomez says. There's no reason women of faith can't make their own fashion statement without being dowdy.
“This year, we'll be emphasizing how there's a time and place for everything,” Gomez says. “Sex, romance, the erotic — that's all part of life, and Christian life as well. Within a true and loving relationship, it can be one of God's most beautiful creations.”
Author-speaker Shari Braendel is making a return appearance to Christian Fashion Week, joining two other stylists at the “Righteous Fashionista” public workshop Tuesday. With extensive experience in fashion merchandising, Braendal travels the country teaching women “9 to 90” how to dress with confidence.
The titles of her books show how she does it with humor: “Good Girls Don't Have to Dress Bad” and the upcoming “Help Me Jesus, I Have Nothing to Wear.”
“Modesty isn't about what you wear or don't wear,” she says. “It's about revealing your character and your dignity. When a woman looks inside her closet to pick out an outfit, that's the moment she decides on how to represent herself as a believer and what she stands for.”
The biggest complaint she hears from women?
“The fashion industry as a whole portrays a certain kind of women with a special size, hair color and look. It doesn't take average women into account,” Braendal says. “We give guidelines for our participants on how to look and feel better within your own skin, and that when you look in a mirror, you will know that God doesn't make mistakes.”
Five of the designers slated to show off their clothing lines next week are locally based. At 19, Julia Chew of Tampa is the youngest in the show.
“It's a lifelong dream,” she says of launching Xiaolin Design, which includes both high-fashion couture and casual wear. “Like a lot of little girls, I loved art and drawing. But it never faded away. I just began taking those little steps to reach my goals.”
Chew, born in China and adopted as an infant by a Tampa family, was a Christian home-schooled student her whole life. That faith foundation influences her creations. And she can think of no better place than Christian Fashion Week to introduce them. She also appreciated the break given to her and the other designers by the Gomezes. Their entry fees were waived.
“To be part of an international show where other things are emphasized, like integrity and modesty, that's means so much to me,” she says. “Here I can express myself and know I don't have to compromise my own values.”
For Ricc Rollins, the show is an opportunity to combine two of his passions: faith and fashion.
He's the pastor at Genesis Church Orlando and The Edge at Genesis Tampa in Ybor City, and he's also one of the founders of the “Repurposed” clothing line.
“Everything old is new again,” he says. He and business partner Daryl House, who owns Classic Gentlemen, a men's boutique in Seminole Heights, came up with the idea to help customers “repurpose” their used or new clothing with subtle changes to better suit them or bring the pieces up to date.
“Some items you may love and not want to give up,” he says. “We challenge the imagination with every piece we work on.” The two men, working with a seamstress, have “created” about 200 items since launching six months ago.
Rollins loves the concept of Christian Fashion Week because it reflects what he does as a designer.
“There's nothing wrong about being alluring,” he says. “But you can celebrate the form without giving everything away.”