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Chris Tyrell, left, and Jim Searle started the Dare to Wear Love gala and show, which challenges designers to make outfits from African fabrics.

PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The donors: Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell

The gift: Raising $275,000 and climbing

The cause: The Stephen Lewis Foundation

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A few years ago, fashion designers Jim Searle and Chris Tyrell were at an awards dinner when they started chatting about vacations with the woman sitting next to them.

"We talked about going to Africa and doing something different," Mr. Searle recalled from the office of their Toronto-based company, Hoax Couture. "She said, 'I do some work there, I'll give you a call.'"

The woman turned out to be Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, daughter of former politician and diplomat Stephen Lewis and executive director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, a Toronto-based charity that funds grassroots projects to help women and children living with HIV and AIDS in Africa.

As the designers learned more about the foundation, they decided to do something to contribute. They started planning a fundraising fashion show with their own work, figuring it might raise a few thousand dollars. But as more people got involved, the event became much larger and eventually turned into Dare To Wear Love, an annual show involving 25 designers who are each given six yards of fabric from Africa to create unique designs.

This year's show, on March 28 in Toronto, was the fifth such event and the biggest. So far, the gala has raised about $275,000 in total for the foundation.

For Mr. Tyrell, the charity's work with children whose parents died from HIV/AIDS, has special meaning. "I am an orphan," he said. "And I was raised by my grandmother. I felt if I am not connected to this, I'm not connected to anything."

The two men went to Africa a few years ago to see some of the projects funded by the foundation.

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"It was humbling," Mr. Searle said. Mr. Tyrell added that they spend about three months a year organizing Dare To Wear Love and other fundraising events for the foundation, and hundreds of people chip in. "It's an incredibly feel-good experience."

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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