How to make money from selling t-shirts with al dente

Sometimes our best ideas come when we least expect them: in this case, during the seemingly unending months of Covid-19 lockdown in 2021, when Gaia de Siena first decided to launch her ‘al dente’ tee. Having worked in social media, Gaia says she’d “like to think she has a visual eye”, but the tee was otherwise made with little design experience – imagine then, her surprise when it ended up as a bestseller (as well as moderately viral). Besides being a creative outlet, Gaia is transparent about the fact that her side hustle has made a major financial difference in her life too; allowing her to pay off some of her student debt, save some cash, and donate to good causes. Here she tells us about how the ‘al dente’ tee came to be, and how, as a creative living and working in London, the side hustle can change your life.

What made you want to launch your own tee? 

I actually never thought about why I did it in the first place. I had been toying with the idea of making a tee for a long time, and in January 2021 I guess I finally had the headspace to properly think about it. I wasn’t sure what I wanted the tee to be, but I knew I had to rely on strong copy because I’m no illustrator, and that it had to have some connection to Italy; how our culture gets adopted outside of the country, and sometimes misinterpreted and celebrated for the wrong reasons.

At the risk of sounding greedy, hearing so many stories about how creators were able to make some extra cash selling tees on Everpress was definitely the reason I wanted to make one. Mostly I was annoyed at myself because, contrary to most of my mates, I hadn’t been able to save a penny during lockdown, and I had a few things in mind I could do with some extra £££ – so the creative juices were definitely driven by a desire to save some cash. 

Did you have any experience in design? How long did it take you to arrive at your final design, and why was this the one you decided to launch?

Not really. Having worked as a social media manager, I had some very basic design skills but I had never attempted to do my own designs. I like to think I have a visual eye, but that’s it. One evening during lockdown I was preparing a few social media posts for my music side-project and I started playing around with positioning, fonts and layers. I wrote down a few Italian words and ‘al dente’ just stuck with me. I did a few tests with the positioning of the letters, but the triangular, slightly unintuitive, misspelled shape sat with me the best. And the blue reminded me of the packaging of most iconic Italian pasta brands. 

How did you feel when you saw the campaign taking off? 

I couldn’t believe it. Working in social ‘going viral’ is what you always hope will happen to one of your posts, so it was mad to see how many people vibed with the tee. Over the summer I kept receiving messages from friends who spotted people in the ‘al dente’ tee around London, on zoom calls, on stories. I think the highlight was seeing it in on @mobkitchen’s stories. 

How have you been able to use the profits? 

Looking back now, the payouts gave me the chance to donate to charities I cared for, something I hadn’t been in the position to do before, get my finances in order (I paid off an outstanding credit card debt I was carrying since my uni days), start therapy and focus on my mental and emotional health, with some gifts to my mum thrown in for good measure (ciao mamma!). Wealth doesn’t equal health, but money is front of mind for so many 20-somethings living in stupidly expensive cities so I would be lying if I said the payout didn’t give me some peace of mind after years of getting to the end of the month with £20 in my account. 

After 2 years of running the tee on Everpress, I’ve also been able to almost completely pay off my student loans, which is an incredible achievement! I have been repaying these off my payslip for 10 years, and it feels good knowing I only have a few hundred pounds left. 

How does making the tee fit into the rest of your life and work? 

The truth is, I don’t even really think of it anymore as something I ‘do’. The bulk of the work was the evening I spent on the design, and sometimes sharing it on social. It’s a shockingly good side hustle to have, because if you get the design right once, it just keeps on giving. I have set the campaign on auto-relaunch, which means I don’t even have to think about it, I just need to remember to update my link in bio every once in a while. I did open a dedicated instagram account for the campaign, but ended up not putting any content on it…I might bring it back though, so that ‘al dente’ can live a life of its own, separate from my personal socials. I have been testing the design out on art prints and caps which has been really fun, and the Everpress audience seem to like those too. I’m always super happy when someone tags me or sends me pictures of people wearing ‘al dente’ around the world. 

Explore our Creator Toolkit to learn more about the process behind our most successful designs, from making the jump from architecture to visual design with Alexander Khabbazi to making book merch with Repeater Books.