Travel+Leisure India|August 2020
The tiny island nation of Sri Lanka is leading Southeast Asia’s sustainable tourism movement, with a dynamic bunch of local entrepreneurs spearheading change.


ONE BALMY AFTERNOON in downtown Colombo, I catch up with Natalie Pendigrast, interior designer turned entrepreneur whose store, Pendi (, can give anyone major design goals. In this beautiful sunlit space, Pendigrast curates an exquisite collection from Sri Lanka’s trendiest sustainable brands and artists. “There is so much interesting work going on in terms of sustainable creativity in Sri Lanka. I wanted to use my store to give a platform to these local brands. Everything here is made in Sri Lanka,” she explains.

That afternoon at Pendi, I hang with the who’s who of the creative community. Nihara Fernando runs Botanic Hues (, which uses flowers, leaves, turmeric, and other natural resources to dye fabrics, while Kanil Dias’s initiative, Geo Blox, makes lifestyle products out of concrete— personalised souvenirs and objets d’art. Similarly, artist Dhanushka Wickramaratne of Cane Couture ( works with rural communities and local artists to create a range of super-chic cane bags, while Xýlo ( is an eco-friendly brand that specialises in cork placemats and coasters as well as bowls, chopping boards, and spoons made from discarded wood. “Rather than buying a factory-minted souvenir, the sustainable movement is real in Sri Lanka, where tourists can directly participate,” Pendigrast tells me.

Across town, I step into the chic confines of Urban Island (urbanisland. lk), a gorgeous design store in an art deco bungalow, featuring a distinct tropical vibe. Urban Island’s quirky collections are sourced from local artisans using indigenous fabrics and raw materials in things like linen, books, accessories, bags, and even table decor.

I cannot visit Colombo without making a quick pit stop at the iconic Barefoot (, whose story represents the very essence of sustainability. Way back in 1964, Barbara Sansoni started Barefoot to promote local artists and craftsmen who worked from home in order to eliminate factory lines and provide unique, local, handmade souvenirs. Even today, Barefoot’s network of artisans spans across Sri Lankan villages.


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August 2020