An Arnold couple plans to create their new business alongside a growing city.
Mark and Crystal Saxon founded their T-shirt printing business, Elevate Arnold, on a design by their 6-year-old daughter, Audrey, around Valentine’s Day this year.
Audrey’s shirt, featuring a heart with the word “Love” within it in sign language symbols, proved popular enough that they launched a website after finding they couldn’t keep up with demand for it through a Facebook page.
“It had a lot to do with the positive response from the community,” Crystal Saxon said. “It gave us enough traffic and momentum.”
That original design is no longer available, but a collection of Audrey’s designs, called “Auddish,” is featured on the Elevate Arnold website, among several others.
Now, the Saxons run the business from Arnold, where their living room is their shop.
“We removed the living room from the living room,” Mark Saxon said.
They plan to move into a storefront in Arnold by the end next summer.
“A lot of it came from wanting to give back,” Crystal Saxon said. “We want to elevate not just ourselves but those around us.”
Mark Saxon suggested that they might find space more easily elsewhere, but this is contrary to their mission.
“We’d like to stay in Arnold,” he said. “It’s the whole basis of the business.”
Crystal (30 and Mark 35) have been married 10 years. They moved to Arnold in 2012 after they had a 10-year marriage. They met online.
Mark was raised in Homestead and served for four years in Marine Corps. Crystal moved from Washington State to the area.
“It was just a fresh start,” she said. “He was my only friend at the time.”
Both had previously worked at the Veterans Administration. He was in housekeeping for 10+ years, and she was a health care technician for just a few months.
Mark was laid off in March after his last job at a property management firm. Crystal had been a hobbyist and crafter from home.
Elevate Arnold was their first venture into a business.
“I was just a hobbyist who sold things here and there,” Crystal said.
Earlier this year, Mark attended an eight-week Opportunity Accelerator program for small-business owners at The Corner, Penn State’s entrepreneurial center in New Kensington. Mark stated that the course helped him to focus on the business basics and not the technical aspects.
They produce shirts from their home using direct-to garment printing. This uses a large inkjet printer to print images onto shirts. They can turn around in about a week, but they allow for a two-week turnaround.
Mark Saxon stated that they started with T-shirts but are now making sweatshirts and hoodies for Halloween. They also make temporary tattoos and magnets. They hope to expand into window stickers by the end the year.
Mark Saxon stated that their goal is to work with artists to replicate their designs, make shirts for local businesses, and then sell their in-house designs directly to the public.
“Our motto that we went with is, ‘Inspiring others forward together,’ ” he said.
While smaller businesses might not be able to afford buying in the numbers other T-shirt companies require, the Saxons are able to handle small orders, even if it’s just one or two shirts. One custom shirt costs $20.
For Arnold, where Mark Saxon chairs the city’s redevelopment authority, they made four shirts for the city’s two code enforcement officers this summer.
George Hawdon, Councilman of the City, said that he would like officers to be able to identify themselves as city employees. Other minimum orders required them to order 10 or 12 shirts.
“I wanted the code officers to have some kind of distinguishing clothing, but I didn’t want it militarized like the police or bulky like the fire department,” Hawdon said. “They’re very nice, very high quality. He was able and willing to take on a small order. The bonus was he was a local business.”
Mark Saxon is still working to support his family but hopes that Elevate Arnold will grow to be his full-time job.
“I want to build an empire to give to Audrey,” Crystal said.