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2023 Women in Signs: Elizabeth Arenella Toynes

She takes a design-first, problem-solving approach to signmaking.



Elizabeth Arenella Toynes
Elizabeth Arenella Toynes
Partner and Head of Operations | Studio Dzo (Austin, TX)

MANY SHOP FLOORS are brimming with tales of unexpected entries to the industry, but Elizabeth Arenella Toynes, partner and head of operations of Austin-based Studio Dzo, might just have them all beat. Arenella Toynes grew up in her dad’s large signshop and ran the other direction, pursuing her love of barbering to put herself through college to become an accountant. She first applied her barbershop people skills and accounting degree at a small tech startup and then a five-person fashion startup headed by a 13-year-old child prodigy.

“Being an employee for a 13-year-old — it teaches you a lot,” she says. “As a boss and a leader … you can create an environment where everyone takes their job very seriously, but they have fun doing it. That was an important lesson that a lot of people don’t get on their path to business ownership.”

SUPPORT BY DESIGN: Arenella Toynes and Studio Dzo demand respect from clients for the shop’s women employees.SUPPORT BY DESIGN: Arenella Toynes and Studio Dzo demand respect from clients for the shop’s women employees.

When her teenage boss left for college, the sign industry pulled her back in. “My dad had started a really small sign company because he was bored. As we all know, you can’t get out of the industry,” she laughs. When her dad decided to retire, Arenella Toynes and her husband, Russell, took over the barely-off-the-ground shop, asking, “How can we do this and make it better?”

Enter Studio Dzo, a seven-person, design-first shop leveraging Elizabeth’s interpersonal skills, acuity for math and small-business mentality, and Russell’s artistic direction and corporate structure know-how. “Everyone on our team brings this approach of learning that design is really just problem solving,” she says. “When someone comes to us saying, ‘I want a sign,’ we ask, ‘What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?’ Because if someone just wants something, there’s no solution that’s going to make them happy.”


Studio Dzo’s motto is “Do good work for good people with good people,” which isn’t always easy, “especially as a woman in the sign industry. We’ve had to turn down work from major construction teams because they don’t treat us or our employees right,” says Arenella Toynes. “I have to uphold my motto to my team. They’re good to me, and I’m going to make sure the people I’m working with are good to them.” As a young, woman business owner with a penchant for bright colors and bold fashion, Arenella Toynes has also perfected the art of correcting without chastising when a colleague calls her ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’ — “It’s Elizabeth, thank you.”

“As a woman in a room full of men, that’s not always the easiest thing to do, but luckily I’ve surrounded myself with men and women [who] empower me.” For Arenella Toynes, it’s crucial to return the favor, empowering her internal team and their external partners. “We tend to work with a lot of women on teams who otherwise aren’t really heard,” she says, often partnering with interior designers to collaboratively problem solve and design cohesive spaces. Arenella Toynes remembers a time when signage was brought in through architecture rather than construction, and Studio Dzo uses their understanding of branding and graphic design to bring signs back into interior design and architecture. “You want to make sure what … you’re bringing into your space flows, and it looks like it was always supposed to be there. We get to talk to the people that that matters to. Because at the end of the day, they want their space to look good.”





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