Everyone knows the Barefoot flagship store. Sitting on the Galle Road, under flying fabric flags, the shop/gallery/cafe/lifestyle is an indispensable part of Sri Lanka’s tourist – and artistic – culture. Like homing pigeons, Colombo’s sun-searching holidaymakers flock to the Galle Road Barefoot, somehow aware that a visit to the island isn’t quite complete unless accompanied by an iced tea at the cafe and a suitcase suitably stuffed with Barbara Sansoni’s vibrant, geometric textiles.
While the flagship store remains its most popular and iconic, there are two other Barefoots (Barefeet?) on the island – one in Galle, and one somewhat hidden behind the main courtyard of the Dutch Hopsital shopping complex (situated along a narrow walkway connecting the dining quadrangle to O Bar). The Dutch Hospital Barefoot is smaller – less vertically sprawling than the tall, teetering Galle Road building, but similarly packed with brightly coloured textiles that line almost every purchasable surface – toys, notebooks, cushion covers. Basically everything – except the cutlery and ornaments.
However, Barefoot appears to be more frequented by the tourist demographic than locals, which is a shame. Barbara’s iconic textiles – while not cheap – still constitute high quality, original items of clothing that are strongly Sri Lankan. Compare to the synthetic ‘fancy clothing’ you get at stores like Romafour or Avirate, where polyester cocktail dresses can cost anything between Rs. 2000 to a whopping Rs. 5000. At the Dutch Hospital Barefoot branch, all cotton dresses cost up to a relatively affordable Rs. 2000. The aesthetic of their clothing is simple: large sheets of brightly coloured fabrics folded into uncomplicated, island clothes – loose and light, devoid of elaborate stitching or starchy tightness; there’s an emphasis on fabric over form – no stitched sleeves, close hems or dazzling diamantes. This is ideal tropical wear – vivid, stylish and comfy.
Whether tourist or local, Barefoot is a great destination for thoughtful, well-designed gifts, clothing and general lifestyle ware. While there’s a tendency to be intimidated by the perception of high prices tailored to a tourist niche, a rummage around can elicit some great items – charming fabric mice for Rs. 700, ornaments Rs. 500 and above, cotton sarongs Rs. 1800. The Dutch Hospital location makes Barefoot more accessible to the local clientele constantly filtering in and out of the complex – and the selection here seems curated to include their more inexpensive items. If you’re dropping by at O! Bar for a pint, a peep at their cheerful, artistic wares is unlikely to be a waste of time – and a Barefoot sarong is never an unwelcome gift.