How this 24-year-old’s side hustle made over $32,000 in one month


Drawing has always been a hobby of Elena Gatti who started drawing animals at the age of 5. She certainly never intended to monetize that ability.

But 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 merchandise for musicians and bands like Harry Styles and Mt. Joy. Her Chicago-based side business, Fiorenza Art, made nearly $32,000 in sales in November 2021 alone, according to documents verified 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. Her art, influenced by old Italian advertisements, had a distinct and bold style. A few months and a handful of Instagram ads later, it caught on on the explore page of the platform. Business was good.

Today, Gatti still posts her art on Instagram — but the real money from her side hustle comes from selling prints on her website and landing lucrative client deals, some of which pay out as much as $10,000 a piece.

An aspiring creative

When Gatti was 7 years old, she found out she was dyslexic. Art quickly became more than just a creative outlet: she relied on drawing to build confidence and make friends throughout elementary school.

“People were able to see me the way I wanted to be seen through art,” she says.

Gatti’s art often blends poetry with colorful layers and exaggerated, lively animals.

Elena Gatt

After graduating from college in 2019, Gatti began an internship at Zeno, a global PR firm, where she is now Art Director. This July, Fiorenza — Gatti’s middle name and a tribute to her 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 and investing in a handful of Instagram ads for about $50 each, her art received little to no attention.

So she committed herself: only to draw what makes her happy and not what others expect. This authenticity paid off within a few months. Casetify, a Hong Kong-based company Phone case brand, contacted them and launched their first collection in February 2021.

Art in an Algorithm

Gatti rode at a height. Designing a collection was a dream, she had a job that allowed her to be creative, and her Instagram following had grown to around 30,000 users.

Then, in June 2021, something even more unlikely happened: a member of Styles’ team sent her a direct message on Instagram, asking her to help design merchandise for his upcoming tour.

“They found my art on Instagram’s explore page and loved the style, especially my bunnies,” says Gatti. “They told me that if I was interested, they wanted to go in that direction. It all happened very quickly.”

Gatti’s bunnies are a main theme at Harry Styles’ “Love on Tour” concerts.

Elena Gatt

The Styles team showcased their work on sweatshirts, tote bags, hats and more. Gatti’s design of twisted bunnies layered on chessboards became a standout image of Styles’ tour, which began in September 2021 and has been attended by more than 700,000 fans, according to Billboard Music. A few weeks later, John Mayer — apparently a Styles fan — wore the rabbit 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 sell-off led to the best month of her part-time job yet: In November 2021, Fiorenza raised $31,800 through a combination of new business and web sales.

Curating a fulfilling career

Sales have leveled off since November, but the sideline remains relatively lucrative. Fiorenza has grossed around $15,000 online alone in 2022 alone, selling art, clothing, bags and even blankets.

And Gatti’s popularity in the industry is growing. In December 2021, she designed merchandise – featuring bears and blue leopards – for Mt. Joy, her favorite band. She didn’t reach out to her. Rather, the band found their work on Instagram.

“The power that Instagram has for artists and creators is unreal,” says Gatti, adding that she has since become friends with the band members. “You don’t really realize until you’re in space how it can spread like wildfire.”

By February 2022, Gatti had sold her 1,000th print and reached 100,000 followers on Instagram. Still, she says she still has a lot to learn after only two and a half years in her business.

“It’s learning through trial and error,” says Gatti. “Sometimes I find a supplier or printer I like to make a sweatshirt. I bite the bullet and spend thousands of dollars on merch and they’re not going to come out exactly how I want them to. These difficult business decisions persist feel scary.”

Gatti says she’s had to learn how to negotiate with clients, sometimes turning down deals with brands when she feels an offer doesn’t reflect the value of her work. She also occasionally feels creatively stunted, and the only solution she’s 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. every night.

But the work paid off: Fiorenza is profitable, says Gatti. And while she hopes it can become her full-time job one day, she has no intention of quitting her job. After all, she says, being an art director in a big city was her high school and college dream.

“If I can wake up and draw, it’s a great day because I know I’m doing something that fulfills me,” says Gatti. “In your mid-20s you’re always trying to figure out your next step, your purpose, and doing something I love has taken the pressure off of needing answers. For now I’m happy just doing it one day at a time. “

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