Charity Spotlight: Dare to Wear Love

You’ve heard us speak of the Stephen Lewis Foundation before. Just over a year ago, we attended the star-studded Hope Rising benefit concert, where we got to hear all about the charity from Stephen Lewis himself. On Friday, the hot ticket in Toronto was the Dare to Wear Love charity fashion show to benefit the foundation, held at the Ritz-Carlton. The models – an assortment of familiar faces from the media, entertainment and fashion worlds – took the runway to showcase Canadian fashion and the one-of-a-kind couture creations constructed from six yards of African fabric and designed by some of the country’s top designers. The show was accompanied by a gala that included, among other things, a performance by Divine Brown.

This year the annual charity event celebrated its fifth anniversary of helping children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The initiative has raised over a quarter of a million dollars in just five years, with 100 per cent of proceeds supporting the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s critical community-based work in Africa. We caught up with the Dare to Wear Love Founders, Chris Tyrell and Jim Searle, to hear a little more about the event and why support of the cause is more important than ever. 

Why did you decide to support this particular cause?
It was an accidental meeting that got us started. We were seated next to Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, the ED of the Stephen Lewis Foundation at a party. We started talking and the next thing we knew, we were in her office learning about the incredible work that the foundation does. 

We had been thinking that we somehow wanted to give back to the world, and that Africa was the place to do it. The foundation, with their grassroots community-based approach, really struck a chord with us. The fact that they support children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic and the grandmothers that need to care for these children after their parents had died was also important. Chris was orphaned at an early age and raised by his grandmother, so that is also why we were so connected to this particular cause and foundation.

Do you think the issues/concerns surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa have decreased in prevalence from a decade ago in terms of public awareness? 

Absolutely, to the point that many governments and NGOs are pulling funding from Africa and putting it in other places (Canada included). Here are some examples of this in the news:

Economic Crisis Hits Health Aid That Has Helped Millions As Donors Cut Back

Harper Government Pulls Out of UN Anti-Drought Convention

Funding Crisis Threatening Global Fund’s Fight to End AIDS Calls for Canadian Leadership

You have seen first hand the effect of these charities on the beneficiaries. Is there a particular incident/story/person that had a major impact on you?
When we were in Zambia we met Winstone Zulu, an incredible man who was the first person in Zambia to publicly declare his HIV status. At the time, and even now, your community and your family can shun you in very cruel ways. He bravely stood up and said that he was positive, which resulted in him becoming the face of the crisis for the media. He died of complications from AIDS in 2011, but was instrumental in getting AIDS in Africa in front of the world media.

Can you describe the design process using traditional African fabrics? 
For us, it is a combination of letting the fabric talk to us, and the personality of the person that will be wearing the dress or suit. It is actually a lot of fun!

How did you select the models and designers? 
The Canadian designers are selected based on their reputation for doing something fabulous, while the models are a mix of Canadian actors, athletes, journalists, models, and other influencers that will help to spread the word and get the message across.

What is the best part of the Dare to Wear Love gala?
The gala has an incredible energy; a feel-good spirit that is hard to describe. The best part is that everybody, both in the audience and the backstage models and volunteers, get very excited and have a great time! It’s a chance for the audience to get dressed up and celebrate a great cause. The show gets people laughing and cheering for their favourite creation or Canadian personality, and the use of “real” people on the runway (and not just professional models) always contributes to that energy.  

What are some markers of success regarding social justice?
The biggest marker would be the fact that we would not need to raise money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation or other similar organizations, but every day there are small successes that improve the lives of people around the world. In Africa, it would be things like more children completing school, fewer women forced into prostitution, more people having access to the right medication to fight HIV, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, etc. These are all measurable things.

Any advice to young professionals wishing to start their own charity event?
Our advice is to get all your friends involved and it will be a lot of fun – but you definitely need ALL of them. You will be surprised what connections you have when you pool your networks together. Also, get ready to give up months of your life to dedicate to it every year!


#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)

Want more updates on the most Notable things happening so you know before your colleagues do? Get our exclusive newsletter here and follow us on Twitter for all the latest.