Designer Dreams

Honoring a family’s legacy

By Susan Baldani

Biridiana Torres’s family has a long history of following the American dream. Her grandfather, Maximiano Garcilazo, came to the United States from Michoacán, Mexico, in his early 20s to pursue a better life. Shortly after, he brought his wife Margarita to join him so they could raise their children in their newly adopted country. Biri’s mother, Monica, was born in the United States.

When Biri decided to pursue her own dream of starting her fashion design business, IXO’LOYANA, her family couldn’t have been more supportive. Her mother has become her go-to person when she needs a second opinion, and Biri often sends her pictures of dresses and asks her for feedback. Her father, Arturo Martinez, who was born in Mexico, also loves to see her creations.

“My parents are very proud and excited,” says Biri. “They love seeing a new finished dress or hearing about new opportunities.”

Biri knew from a young age that she wanted to design dresses. As a little girl, she would carry a notebook in which she would sketch every day. In high school, when she was getting ready for her junior prom, she couldn’t find a dress that matched the vision in her head. She ended up having to settle for what she could buy in a store.

“In my senior year, I was like, ‘That’s not going to happen again,’” she says. “So, for senior prom, I made my own dress. At the time, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, I just did it. Surprisingly, it turned out really nice.”

That’s when she knew for sure that designing was her passion and what she wanted to do going forward. She applied to Colorado University and was accepted into their Design and Construction program. In addition to obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Apparel and Merchandising in 2016, she also interned for the Wedding Seamstress in Arvada in her junior year and at the Anabella Poletti Design House in Fort Collins in her senior year. The skills she learned at both places were invaluable.

“While I was interning, I was able to do things I didn’t learn in college,” says Biri. “I learned all the tricks you need to know,  such as working with lace, which is so delicate, and how to make a wedding dress look structured.  I also learned awesome tricks to make fittings and alterations easier.”

The first custom dress she made on consignment was in 2016 for a teenager celebrating her quinceañera, a celebration of a girl’s fifteenth birthday common in many Spanish-speaking families. Shortly after, in 2017, she opened an Etsy Shop, and the orders started pouring in.

“I got many requests for custom dresses,” says Biri. “Everything from a confirmation dress and a prom dress, to a first communion dress and wedding dress. Basically, anything that was formalwear.”

All of these dresses were custom designed for a particular individual, so no two dresses were the same. On average, it takes about two months to complete a custom dress, but she can make them faster if necessary. She also works on multiple dresses at a time. 

Since making these dresses is very time consuming, she hasn’t had the time to do much else. Until now.

“I’m taking a break from custom dressing and taking the time to design a collection,” says Biri. “By making a collection, I feel that I can truly express myself as a designer. I have the ability to be very innovative and very creative.”

She is also doing this collection to reintroduce herself as an individual and as a designer. She has seen many small businesses doing Meet the Maker posts on their social media pages, and decided that she is going to do a Meet the Maker collection. In this way, she says, she can let everyone know who she is, but in dress form.  There will be a total of six dresses in the collection.

“Each dress is going to represent me in some sort of way,” says Biri. “So, the first dress is describing my Mexican American roots. I call it Beautiful Roots.”

When you see it at first glance, it’s going to say USA on the corset which will be in sequins, which are reversible. The American flag is on a short, belted skirt. But then, when I switch the sequins up, it will reveal the word Mexico. And when I drop the skirt it becomes a long skirt which will reveal the Mexican flag.”

Biri removed a Mexican eagle from a shirt she already had and sewed it onto the skirt to look like part of the flag. For the American portion of the skirt, she says she was lucky to find the most perfect upholstery fabric for the blue and white stars and the red and white stripes. It works wonderfully because it gives the skirt some structure.

For the second dress in the collection, she decided to do an inside out dress. This is to show how much work it takes to make a dress. The third dress will be an ethical dress that uses vegan leather; Biri is a vegan. The fourth dress will represent how much family means to her,  so she’ll be using a family tree as an inspiration. The fifth dress will represent her aunt’s name, IXA’LOYANA, which is also the name of her brand.

This name, she says, has a meaning behind it. Many of the letters represent the moon in some way.

The first two letters, she says, represent Ix Chel, a moon goddess from Mayan mythology. The “L” represents Luna, which is Spanish for moon. The “O” represents the shape of the moon, and “ANA” are the last letters of her full name, Biridiana. And Diana, in Roman Mythology, is a moon goddess as well.

“When I first started, I remember looking up at the sky whenever I didn’t feel inspired,” says Biri. “It would make me realize that we live in a beautiful world with a beautiful sky and moon, which I connect with my brand because I feel it is classy and edgy.”

The last and final dress in the collection will be more of a casual outfit. This will be something that she would wear to a show or a concert. She expects the whole collection to take about five to six months to complete.

“I feel blessed to have the opportunity to start a business in the U.S. because my family sacrificed and worked very hard to make it to this country,” she says. “I also feel inspired to continue growing and achieve more not only for me, but for my family and community as well.”

To learn more about Biri and IXA’LOYANA, go to

Written for Loveland & South Lifestyle magazine in Colorado.

Pass the Syrup

Pancakes are back on the breakfast menu

By Susan Baldani

When Josie Johnson was diagnosed with a gluten allergy many years ago, one of the foods she missed the most were pancakes. So, she started making her own mixes in her kitchen in Bend. Today, Josie’s Best Gluten Free Mixes are being sold throughout the U.S.

“When my husband and I were first dating, I really become obsessed with making a gluten-free pancake that we both could enjoy,” she says. (Marty, unlike Josie, doesn’t have a gluten allergy.) “So, I came up with one we really liked it and started giving it to family and friends. They loved them.”

The company’s warehouse is based in Sisters. All products are made with minimal ingredients, and can be enjoyed by people with many different food allergies. They contain no peanuts, no tree nuts, no dairy, and no gluten. In addition to pancake mixes, which are their number one seller, the company also offers mixes for waffles, muffins, and crepes.

Josie finds her work extremely rewarding. Many of her customers tell her that they had given up on pancakes until her mixes came along.

“For me, it feels like warmth and family and all the good  things about being a kid, with sticky syrupy fingers,” she says. “I’m grateful to know that I can insert some of that happiness back into people’s lives.”

To learn more, go to

Gluten Free Pancake Berry Bake Recipe


  • 2 cup batch of Josie’s Best GF Pancake batter (per instructions, you will need an egg, oil of choice, milk of choice)
  • 2 cups frozen berries (or any fruit)
  • ½ a lemon
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2-4 tsps.  sugar of choice (Josie uses coconut sugar )


  • Line a square 8×8 baking dish with parchment and preheat oven to 350°.
  • Mix up pancake batter following instructions on the back of the bag.
  • Add the juice of ½ of lemon to batter. 
  • Toss frozen berries with 1-2 tsps. sugar and pour into baking dish.
  • Pour batter on top. Sprinkle with remaining sugar.
  • Bake for about one hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out with only a few moist crumbs. 
  • Allow to cool slightly and enjoy!  

Written for Bend Lifestyle magazine in Bend, Oregon.

When home and school are one and the same

By Susan Baldani

It looks like distance learning is here to stay in many communities around the country this fall. At least this time around, unlike in the spring, parents have a chance to prepare. It’s critical for children to have the right environment in which to learn and setting up a dedicated learning area in your home can make a world of difference in their academic success.

There are many factors that go into choosing the right spot. It’s important that it be quiet and away from distractions such as televisions, radios, and/or household activity. This can be a dining room that’s rarely used, a spare bedroom, or an area in a finished basement. If possible, it’s better to set it up outside of children’s own bedrooms. For one thing, there are too many temptations such as toys and games there. For another, their bedroom should be the place they can go to relax when they’re done with their school day.

In whatever room or area that you choose, make it an enticing space where your children will want to go and spend time. Make sure there is a flat surface on which to work. This can be a desk or some kind of table with enough room for a computer and writing area. Comfortable seating and good lighting are also a must. Of course, outlets must be close by too.

Keep the area organized by making cubbies out of plastic crates or even small cardboard boxes that kids can decorate. These can be used to store books, folders, and notebooks, as well as ongoing and completed projects. Have a tray or small boxes to hold pens, pencils, scissors, glue, and whatever other supplies a child might need to complete assignments. To encourage tidiness with younger children, make a chart with stickers that children can achieve when they clean up their work areas at the end of the day. This way, they can begin the next morning in a neat and functional “classroom.” 

We don’t know how long  these COVID-19 restrictions will last, but for now at least, children are having to adapt to a whole new way of learning. Let’s make their home learning environment a stimulating and interesting place to spend their school days.

Written for The Country Register published throughout the U.S. and Canada.

America strong – September 11, 2001


What can be said that hasn’t been already said? How many more tears will be shed over this tragedy? Even if you hadn’t lost someone personally that day, you still lost a lot. A sense of security in our homeland, in our places of work, in our routines, and in our streets. Our innocence of evil and the faith that terrorism would never strike us on our soil. Gone.

But we also gained a lot. The strength to go on and live our lives even in the face of danger, the overwhelming appreciation of those who run toward death and destruction instead of away from it. A pride in our nation that may have been forgotten. The ability for people of all ages, races, and backgrounds to come together to offer support for their fellow man. Let’s find that again. One Nation, Under God.

Even with all of our troubles, and especially today, I am proud to be an American.



Going casual in the age of COVID-19

By Sue Baldani

With many people working from home due to COVID-19, weekday dress is transforming from business casual to, well, just casual. Leisurewear and athleisure, such as yoga pants and stylish sweats, were already hot commodities for after work and weekends. Now, they are becoming the workday norm. This year, fall fashion is going to look much different than it did in 2019.

“Work-from-home is a category of merchandise that never existed before and is going to persist for quite a while,” says David Zoba, Chairman of global retail leasing at JLL, in the article, “How COVID-19 is Changing the Fashion World,” on its website.

 How we dress is not only about fashion. During times of great uncertainty and fear, people seek comfort, whether in clothing, food, or family. Along with the emotional fallout, there is the loss of everyday social interactions. Working from home can be isolating for those used to the hustle and bustle of an office. There is no longer bantering with coworkers during coffee breaks or stopping to chat at a colleague’s desk. So, if we have to be alone at home, we might as well be comfortable.

 People are now living, working, and playing at home, and their clothing reflects that. Instead of changing outfits for these different activities, they’re now wearing the same one for all three.

Lululemon, one of the best-known brands in the athleisure market, is experiencing a tremendous surge in sales after expanding into loungewear. And Betabrand, an online retailer that began its “Dress Pant Yoga Pant” campaign many years ago, has been enjoying steadily increasing sales after hosting a “Work From Home” online runway show early on in the pandemic.

An additional issue these days, especially when it comes to high fashion, is money. Unemployment rates are staggering, and even those still working may have taken a pay cut. This has changed the trend from spending to saving. Having the latest Michael Kors handbag or Jimmy Choo shoes may not be a priority, especially when there is nowhere to go and no one to admire them.

The contents in those designer handbags have also changed. Those fun extras that women used to carry such as body sprays and hair ties have now been replaced with hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and extra masks.

Traditional clothes shopping has also undergone a huge change. Shoppers may be hesitant to go into physical stores, so fashion retailers have shifted their focus to e-commerce. According to data from analysis firm Commerce Signals, online sales skyrocketed following the March closures of brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S.

However, online buying is not without its problems. One major disadvantage of purchasing clothing online is the inability try things on; the other is shipping costs. This has led to more consumers “shopping” in their closets. They are rediscovering outfits that may have been pushed to the back of the closet some time ago.

Joshua Williams, assistant professor of fashion management at the Parsons School of Design, in the Bustle magazine article, “People May Never Dress The Same Again After Coronavirus, Experts Say,” states, “Most importantly, this pandemic has made us realize that we have a lot of clothes in our closets we are not wearing.

It’s forcing us to think about what clothes we will likely wear post-pandemic — especially with the idea of moving through the world in more comfort.”

Social media also reflects this new normal. Whereas pre-COVID it was common to see users showing off their stylish new outfits and accessories, now you see many more selfies featuring more casual clothing.

Another reason for comfortable and oversized clothing during a pandemic? Weight gain. With gyms closed, limited places to go, and  a refrigerator and pantry in the next room 24/7, people are finding it harder to stay fit. Those elastic waistbands help us to ignore the fact that we can’t fit into our tailored suits any longer.

Of course, there are times when business wear still comes into play, even while working from home. Bosses, colleagues, and clients may request to see you onscreen, so “waist up”  dressing has become quite the thing. Basically, wearing business attire on top, but then sweats or even underwear below.

This has also led to a new type of apparel called the “Zoom shirt.” This is a more office-friendly shirt that is donned only while having online meetings.

In the article, “The Video Call is Starting. Time to put on your Zoom shirt,” Maria Rugolo, an apparel industry analyst for the NPD Group, states that according to a company poll, only 10 percent of people actually get dressed in business attire to work from home. The majority just slip into and out of Zoom Shirts.

Despite the trend to casual wear, there are people who are still interested in adding some unique style into their everyday lives, especially when they do leave the house. Instead of having to wear those ubiquitous, plain surgical masks, some designers and consumers are making cloth masks that go specifically with certain outfits, either by using matching fabric or fabric that accentuates the colors in the clothes.  Masks have become another accessory, albeit a necessary one, so why not dress them up?

What about post-COVID fashion? Will we go back to a more formal style?

“I do believe we will dress up for special events,” Dawnn Karen, a fashion psychologist, states in Bustle magazine. “But work attire will become lax. At a psychological level, people will still be fraught with anxiety. This has scarred us, and this will affect how we present ourselves to the world externally due to the inner turmoil the pandemic has caused.”

Other experts, however, are predicting a resurgence of the desire to “get dressed up.” They expect people to get bored with the casual look and go back to relishing the idea of  putting on a fancy dress or a designer pair of pants. Timeless classics, they believe, will also regain popularity.

With casual clothing most likely to continue well into the fall season, fashionistas may have to wait until the spring season to break out their favorite au couture outfits once again. Until then, make sure those Zoom shirts are within reach.

Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Michigan.