Barbie Brazil with her designs. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Johannesburg - Barbie Brazil used to take her clothes off for a living. Now she makes her money by putting them on.

And it took almost 2 000 condoms for the former stripper’s latest design, hand-sewn into a figure-hugging dress, to articulate her message for World Aids Day on December 1.

“It took me five days, working long hours, to make this dress and what I’m trying to say is: ‘If it took me so long to do, why should it be more difficult for a person to [put] on a condom before sex – something that takes less than a minute to do?’

“Aids is not a joke,” she said.

Born Ennie Tembie Tshabalala, 28, the former stripper briefly looked sad as she sat in her plush home in Dainfern, reminiscing about her upbringing and the lessons that moulded her into the woman she is now.

“My childhood was the way it was, you know? We’ve all had different childhoods… mine was something I wouldn’t want for my child,” she said, taking her “medication” – a glass of white wine.

“My mother was kidnapped and married off at the age of 12. I was born in Daleside, Meyerton, on a farm; my mother was a domestic worker and still is.

“I grew up on a farm, emakhishini [in the kitchens]… I grew up in a shack and they say: ‘She’s looking for attention; she’s got a sharp tongue.’

“I’m not lying, I grew up there,” she said.

Her long pink nails, black weave, blue eyes, pink lipstick, voluptuous bosom and history as a stripper around upmarket stripper lounges in the city have resulted in many misconceptions about her, she said, adding that her “doll-like” appearance was only a persona she adopted after years of hardship.

Brazil, who prides herself on being a straight talker, showed a glimpse of vulnerability as she described growing up with her abusive, estranged father.

“I saw everything [between my father and mother], it was shocking… I couldn’t stand it.

“It was a wake-up call and if I were to talk about all that stuff, people would be crying for me and I don’t want that,” she said, regaining her composure.

At 18, when she decided she could no longer live with her father and wanted her independence, she told her mother the words many parents wouldn’t want to hear.

“I told her I want to go and strip, that it’s just a job like modelling or acting,” she said laughing. “She didn’t receive it well.

“I had watched the movie From Dusk till Dawn; I loved how Salma Hayek danced. I wanted to be that person men admired.

“From what I saw in the movie, you’d go on TV and be the epitome of sexy. I wanted that.”

Barbie had a brief stint at one of the late strip club owner Lolly Jackson’s clubs in 2005, and credits her former boss as having taught her to hustle.

She moved to The Lounge, then to strip clubs in Mozambique.

But when she met her husband, Seanus Cleary, in 2006, her life took a different turn.

“When I met him [online], I thought: ‘Oh my gosh, this guy is so sweet.’

“He came to meet me from London, we sat and spoke and the rest is history,” she said.

Brazil has left her professional stripping days behind to open a shop, Bourgeoisie Boutique. She designs clothes.

She said: “My life is calm now, I’m happy, I’m relaxed.

“Now my life is about our four-year-old son, my husband and my fashion business.

“What I want my boy to grow up knowing is that he should never judge a woman just by her appearance, he should look deeper into people.

“And he should love, respect and appreciate women.” - The Star