How this 24-year-old’s side hustle brought in over $32,000 in one month
Drawing has always been a hobby for Elena Gatti, who started drawing animals when she was 5 years old. She certainly never intended to monetize this skill.
Yet today the 24-year-old brings in five figures a month – on top of her income as an art director at a PR agency – designing products for musicians and bands like Harry Styles and Mt. .Joy. His Chicago-based side business, Fiorenza Art, brought in nearly $32,000 in sales in November 2021 alone, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
It all started on Instagram, where Gatti posted drawings to stay creative while studying advertising, art, and design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His art, influenced by vintage Italian advertisements, had a distinct and bold style. A few months and a handful of Instagram ads later, it caught the eye on the platform exploration page. The business was on.
Today, Gatti still posts his art on Instagram – but the real money for his side business comes from selling impressions on his website and securing lucrative client deals, some of which cash in at $10,000 each. .
A budding creative
When Gatti was 7 years old, she learned that she was dyslexic. Soon, art became more than just a creative outlet: she relied on drawing to gain confidence and make friends throughout elementary school.
“People could see me as I wanted to be seen through art,” she says.
After graduating from college in 2019, Gatti began an internship at Zeno, a global PR firm where she is now artistic director. In July, Fiorenza – Gatti’s middle name and a tribute to his Italian heritage – made its first sale.
It wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic hit that she decided to invest in “building” a brand. But after a few weeks of trying to strategically grow Fiorenza, investing in a handful of Instagram ads at around $50 each, her art was getting little to no attention.
So she made a commitment to herself: to draw only what makes her happy, rather than what others expect. In a few months, this authenticity paid off. Casetify, a Hong Kong-based company phone case brand, reached out and launched its first collection in February 2021.
Art in an algorithm
Gatti was rolling on a high. Designing a collection was a dream, she had a day job where she could work creatively, and her Instagram account had soared to around 30,000 users.
Then, in June 2021, something even more unlikely happened: a member of Styles’ team sent him a direct message on Instagram, asking him to help design products for his upcoming tour.
“They found my art on Instagram’s explore page and liked the style, especially my bunnies,” says Gatti. “They told me that if I was interested, that’s the direction they wanted to go. Everything happened very quickly.”
Styles’ team showcased their work on sweatshirts, tote bags, beanies and more. Gatti’s design of twisted bunnies superimposed on checkerboards became a featured image on Styles’ tour, which kicked off in September 2021 and garnered more than 700,000 fans, according to Billboard Music. A few weeks later, John Mayer — apparently a Styles fan — wore the bunnies t-shirt to his own concert at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
Gatti says it took about eight weeks for people to realize she was responsible for the art, inspired by her childhood pet. The corresponding sales surge led to its hustle’s best month yet: in November 2021, Fiorenza brought in $31,800 through a combination of new customer deals and online sales.
Organize a fulfilling career
Since November, sales have stabilized, but the side hustle remains relatively lucrative. Fiorenza has brought in around $15,000 in web sales so far in 2022, selling art, clothing, bags and even blankets.
And Gatti’s popularity in the industry continues to grow. In December 2021, she designed merchandise — featuring bears and blue leopards — for Mt. Joy, her favorite band. She did not contact them. Rather, the band found their work on Instagram.
“Instagram’s power over artists and creatives is unreal,” says Gatti, adding that she’s since become friends with the group’s members. “You don’t really realize until you’re in space how this can spread like wildfire.”
By February 2022, Gatti had sold his thousandth print and reached 100,000 followers on Instagram. Still, after just two and a half years in her business, she says she has a lot to learn.
“It’s trial and error learning,” says Gatti. “Sometimes I find a supplier or printer that I like to make a sweatshirt. I’ll bite the bullet and spend thousands of dollars on merchandising, and they won’t come out exactly the way I want them to. Those tough business decisions remain. scare.”
Gatti says she’s had to learn to negotiate with clients, sometimes turning down deals with brands if she feels an offer doesn’t reflect the value of her work. She also sometimes feels creatively behind, and the only solution she has found so far is to commit to drawing something every day. After finishing her day job at 5 p.m., she says, she draws until 9 or 10 p.m. at night.
But the hard work has paid off: Fiorenza is profitable, says Gatti. And while she hopes it will one day become her full-time job, she has no plans to quit her day job. After all, she says, being an art director in a big city was her dream in high school and college.
“If I can wake up and draw, it’s a great day, because I know I’m doing something that satisfies me,” says Gatti. “In your mid-twenties you’re still trying to figure out the next step, your goal, and doing something I love has taken the pressure off of needing answers. So far, I’m happy to do it a day at a time.”
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