Little Tienda: Sustainable, Size-Inclusive Style That’s Not “Beige”

Dreaming of free time and solitude, mother-of-three (now four) Em Dezentje did what any sane person would do: she set her sights on sunny Mexico and founded her very own fashion label. Fast-forward 12 years and that label, Little Tienda, is the sustainable, size-inclusive darling of social media, beloved for its lavish patterns and voluminous shapes that unapologetically take up space. 

Here, Em tells us how she – a former business guru/academic – found herself designing clothing for other mums, creatives and corporate types who refuse to blend into the background…


Tell us the Little Tienda story… 

It is a fairly unique story, to be honest. It all started when my third child was three months old, my older two were two and three years old and I was living in a regional town a couple of hours away from my family. My husband was working 60 hours a week, as is the nature of his career, and it was a phone conversation with my brother, who said: “I think you need to start a business; you need something else.” 

At a time when I couldn’t even go for a walk on my own, I laughed at his audacity – him being so unaware of the work that being a mother encompassed. But once I got off the phone, I started to think it was a great idea – though I didn’t tell him – and within a few weeks, I had decided on a business name. 

And so Little Tienda was born. Originally, it was based on my love of textiles from Mexico, as I had been lucky enough to travel there all my life. Since then, I have been building, changing and shifting it to what it is today. It all happened 12 years ago – I can hardly believe it!

When did you know that you wanted to get into fashion?

Truly, I didn’t mean to! I have a business and academic background, so the business aspect is what appealed. But I have always had a unique style and growing up, knowing that “trends” never actually fit my body – hello, low-waisted jeans! – I had a natural inclination to start creating pieces that were fun, comfortable and did the work for me. I also felt like creating in the sustainable space was getting a little “beige” and it doesn’t have to be: sustainability can also be bold colours and designs, too. 

Why do I stay in fashion? I’d say it’s so people my age can feel that someone is designing for them. 

Now, at nearly 46 years old, I love that I’ve found myself in this space. Of course, I live a very busy life with four school-aged kids, so if I can rephrase the question to, “Why do I stay in fashion?” I’d say it’s so people my age can feel that someone is designing for them. 

Little Tienda has evolved to become a label for everyday creatives; for mums who are in the thick of it, but still need to feel like themselves; and for women who work full-time jobs in the corporate world, but want to dress in their own style because they are already proving themselves with the work they produce. Customers that have been with me for the past 12 years have grown with me; we chat about what we want to wear and how we wear it. It is all about us now.

Read More – Meet the Sea-Loving Sisters Behind Intimates Label Bimby + Roy

What inspires you as a designer? 

I love colour and mixing the unexpected. I am a lover of frocks, so wearing something that makes an impact and feels good is an important part of my day.

Designing for Little Tienda has allowed me to find my own style, which is absolutely eclectic, with a preference for details and drama. Allowing myself the space to have my own vision for myself has been really freeing. The world has changed so much and so have we. I hope my customers feel free to be whoever they are in the pieces, because I can guarantee they are f*****g sublime!

Comfort is of great importance to me, too. I want those who wear Little Tienda to know the pieces have you covered in more ways than one: there’s comfort in the design, in knowing that you look how you want to look and being ready for whatever the day will bring.

What does sustainable fashion mean to you? How do you incorporate sustainability/ethical practices into your brand? 

For me, the most important part is the human element. Firstly, I want to ensure that everyone who works on Little Tienda pieces is paid fairly, has excellent working conditions and is respected. I was drawn to creating the pieces in India as keeping those traditional artisanal practices alive is so beautiful. We use block printing, embroidery, crochet and screen printing – all done by hand – in the majority of the pieces. 

The second aspect is limiting our footprint as much as we can. We are making a new product – this is always important to acknowledge – so how can it be done in a way that limits our impact? We – as a collective, being me and my production partners – seek materials that are grown and produced in India. We work with organic cotton, poplin and Indian flax linen the majority of the time and our dyes are always eco-friendly and low- impact. 

Sustainable practices are also important once the garments make their way to me. That means ensuring that we have full sell-through, so there is no waste, and also limiting returns where possible.

What are some of your stand-out moments/greatest achievements?

I have worked with incredible women in creative fields who I admire so much: photographers, models and clever freelancers in IT, PR and graphic design. I have travelled with work yet I’ve been present in family life when it has mattered. 

But my greatest privilege is working with the teams that produce my clothing: the daily conversations and the excitement for samples and sharing the final imagery. I cannot believe my life has led me to this point – it is truly remarkable to share this journey with them. 

What are your favourite pieces to wear? 

A piece that I turn to for everyday wear and also for events is the Britta dress [above, at left]. It is such a great style – it just falls the right way on all shapes. It is so comfortable, there’s lots of fabric to swish in and the details on the neckline just elevate the look. I love that just one piece of clothing does all the work and I can feel wonderful.

Who are your favourite local designers? 

I love supporting Aussie brands. My faves are Radical Yes for shoes and accessories, Madeleine Stamer and María Flores for art for the heart and home, and Pinky’s in Melbourne for all the extra things. I must also mention [Carla Robertson of] Carla Colour for sunglasses – she’s now US-based, but she’s been one of my dearest friends for over 40 years. 

What’s one change you’d like to see in the Australian fashion landscape?

I truly think it would be really impactful if customers asked Big Business the same questions they ask small ones – holding them to the same standard they hold a business like mine. That means asking, “Who made the clothes? How do you handle stock and returns? What happens if things do not sell? Are you paying your suppliers fairly?” That means changing our bare minimums in decision-making to include sustainability and the Earth with every purchase.