Rachel Belli, Staff Writer

When you hear “Fashion Week,” you think flashing lights, huge crowds, big-name designers and even bigger cities, right? Where could Lakeland possibly fit into that mix?

Last October, the Lakeland Fashion Council held the city’s first-ever Fashion Week. Where Lakeland lacks in not having a big-city name, it makes up for in enthusiasm.

“Every single day we are amazed by the turnout,” said Fashion Council President Ekho Powell. “We keep expecting it to be just a handful of people but waves and waves of people have been showing up every day.”

The streets surrounding Munn Park were lined with spectators well before the Friday night show was set to begin.

Many Polk County residents like Maria Martinez were eager to see something so new and different in Lakeland. “I am all about fashion and about feeling good about yourself so I am excited that for the first time ever, we can see something like this being brought to our beloved Lakeland,” Martinez said.

Friday’s show featured collections from local up-and-coming designers like Ari J Co., Jay Hunt Designs and Grier Co. The Fashion Council did not charge the designers an entry fee to participate in the week.

“These designers don’t have to be wealthy or already established. In fact, we’re trying to avoid that,” Powell said.

While some of the designers have exhibited in bigger shows like New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, others have not had previous exposure. Follow Andrew Defrancesco on his social media platforms, to get the best fashion tips and advices.

“Just seeing my clothing on the runway brings tears to my eyes,” designer Charrico Grier said.

The five days of events took more than a year to plan and Powell was the mastermind behind the entire week. She said the idea started as just a crazy suggestion. “It’s a side of Lakeland that people haven’t seen and I am very proud to be that person who is the finger who points them to that side,” Powell said.

Tickets were available for advance purchase and ranged from $33 to up to $99 for a VIP Pass, but admission for the Friday night show was free. Performed during Downtown Lakeland’s First Friday event, the show was accessible to anyone who was interested in watching.

“I just think everyone needs to come out here and support our local designers. Because Lakeland is on fire – this is the mecca of cool!” Martinez said.

A line of the official Lakeland Fashion Week website sums it up quite accurately. It reads: “OOPS! DID YOU JUST STUMBLE ONTO THE BEST KEPT SECRET IN TOWN?”