Arts & Entertainment
2 min

More than a simple dare

Local project combines activism, fashion and art

The CBC's Wendy Mesley in Peach Berserk by Kingi Carpenter at the 2011 fashion show. Credit: George Pimentel
Hoax Couture’s Dare to Wear Love project began with a chance meeting. While attending the 2008 Pride Gala, Chris Tyrell (co-founder of the Toronto-based fashion line) struck up a conversation with a random stranger about his vacation plans.
The Jamaican-born designer often jetted off to tropical resorts between collections. But while he loved the sand and surf, he was finding his free time a little too free.
“I was tired of going away and trying to relax,” he laughs. “I would get off the plane and immediately feel like I wanted to do something. She mentioned she worked with an organization funding community projects in Africa, and I immediately thought it was something I could get involved in.”
The random stranger turned out to be Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, daughter of famed activist Stephen Lewis and head of the charitable foundation bearing his name. A week later Tyrell got a phone call, inviting him to meet the board and discuss possible fundraising projects. He and partner Jim Searle (the other half of Hoax Couture) concocted a plan to have local designers create one-of-a-kind couture looks, to be presented at a gala raising both funds and awareness.
This year’s lineup features more than two dozen creators, including David Dixon, Brian Bailey and Evan Biddell. The only condition placed on designers is that they use fabrics from a selection purchased by the team at local African markets. Chosen not simply for their brilliant colours or as a means to support the African economy, the material has a deeper significance.
“Cloths in Africa have specific messages woven into their designs,” Tyrell says. “Some might be commemorative of specific people or histories. Others use symbolism around women’s rights, family planning or other contemporary issues. The proceeds are going to projects on this continent, so we felt it was important to make a connection between the issues and the articles being produced.”
Though Hoax Couture has a long history of fundraising for grassroots causes like Fashion Cares and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, working with the Stephen Lewis Foundation made particular sense. While Western charities and governments have been throwing money at Africa’s problems for years, the foundation takes a different approach, directly funding community groups and initiatives on the continent that realize the projects.
“It’s not that old colonial way of fundraising where North Americans come up with what they think is a great idea for a third-world country and try to implement it,” Tyrell says. “This approach gives respect to the people of Africa and allows them the dignity to conceive and implement the solutions to the problems they face.”
Tyrell’s personal narrative played a huge role in his decision to launch the project. As with all gay men of his generation, he’s lost numerous friends to AIDS, the first when he was only 17. More specifically, his childhood experiences meant the foundation’s approach had particular resonance. One of their main initiatives assists grandmothers of AIDS orphans, a major issue in sub-Saharan Africa, where 40 to 60 percent of children who have lost parents to AIDS live with their grandmothers.
“Both my parents died when I was young, and I was raised by my grandmother,” he says. “Her support made it possible for me to go on to achieve what I have in my life, and so I felt the need to directly align myself with this project. Africa has so much to offer the world, even though they have been in a desperate plight for so long. But things are starting to change there, and we can see it’s not hopeless.”

The Deets:
Dare to Wear Love

Reception: Tues, Feb 14, 6:30pm
Dare to Wear Love 2012 collection on display until May 6
Textile Museum of Canada 
55 Centre Ave
Fashion show will take place Fri, March 16 at 7:30pm
As part of LG Fashion Week, March 12-17