Spokane Journal of Business

Custom merch producer Zome Design leverages power of swag

Fresh off Bloomsday, company to make Hoopfest goods

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-Karina Elias
Brayden Jessen, president and CEO of Zome Inc., says the Spokane Valley-based company has 29 employees, down from a pre-COVID level of 47 but up from a low of 16 during the pandemic.

Custom merchandise produced by Zome Inc. is ubiquitous throughout the Inland Northwest, with its products including this year’s Bloomsday T-shirts and branded merchandise sold at concerts, bars, and breweries, claims Brayden Jessen, CEO and president of the Spokane Valley-based company.

Now, the 38-year-old founder says he wants the company, which does business as Zome Design, to serve as an extension of other companies and their human resource departments in which he and his team can deliver tailored advice on marketing, branding, and custom merchandising.

“I love talking with local business owners on ideas for marketing,” says Jessen. “Even if it’s not with us.”

Jessen says part of creating that extension will come through building the company’s account-management team that can work closely with clients and allow him to be more involved in the community by attending events and acting as a trusted source for employers.

“A lot of people don’t have the proper education on swag,” says Jessen. “(Part) of my mission is doing stuff that people actually want to keep, or swag that gets stolen.”

Swag refers to promotional products that are given away to employees, clients, and potential customers. Business swag bags for employees, for example, often feature branded items such as logo apparel, accessories, drinkware, and notebooks.

Zome Design is located in a 20,000-square-foot facility in the Spokane Business & Industrial Park, at 3808 N. Sullivan Road, in Spokane Valley. The company has 29 employees comprised of production, art and design, administration, and sales workers that collaborate to create custom in-house orders for apparel printing, embroidery, and promotional products.

The company has a total of five screen printing automatic presses, making it one of the largest apparel and decoration facilities in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, Jessen contends.

Zome Design recently has landed Hoopfest as a client and will produce 25,000 shirts for the 3-on-3 basketball tournament, which will be held next month. The company also will produce merchandise for Spokane’s new United Soccer League teams and for journalist Stephanie Vigil's new line of pickleball clothing.

The company also has created products for national brands such as Netflix Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Pandora Media LLC, and Facebook.

The projected annual revenue for 2023 is about $3.2 million, says Jessen, which is stable compared with the year prior revenue. 

Jessen, who grew up in Spokane, says he’s always had a knack for business, design, and marketing. In high school, he noticed that only athletes were allowed to have custom T-shirts and letterman jackets. As part of the student government at Northwest Christian Schools, he pitched the idea of creating a shirt that the whole school could wear that emulated the then popular designs of Abercrombie & Fitch Trading Co. clothes. The shirts were well received, with parents calling to purchase more. Designing and printing a yearly school-wide shirt became a school tradition for several years after that, says Jessen. Soon he began designing and printing shirts for his youth group as well.

As a student at the University of Washington, Jessen says he continued designing shirts, and by his senior year in 2006, he partnered with local Spokane designers and marketers that helped him come up with his company’s name, Zome Design, which is a tribute to a Japanese form of screen printing created through stencil patterns drawn on rice paper and then dyed and applied to fabric. The orange tree that makes up the Zome logo is cut from a rice-paper design.

Over the years, Jessen and his business partner Rusty Namie, chief financial officer for the company, have built Zome Design by acquiring space to expand the facility and purchasing assets from other printing companies that had shut down operations.

During the pandemic, the company’s staff was reduced to 16 from 47, before building back up to its current staff. Zome stayed afloat by winning a bid to produce face masks for the city of Spokane and received Payment Protection Program loans totaling about $500,000, says Jessen.

When most people were working remotely during the pandemic, many companies began giving employees swag boxes as a way to show appreciation and make employees feel a sense of belonging to the company and its culture, Jensen says.

Some companies contracted with Zome to create custom welcome kits to be delivered to employees’ doors.

“You open it up and there’s a letter from the founder: Welcome to the tribe,” he says. “And there’s socks, because socks are the new shoes, and sweatpants, because you don’t need real pants.”

Jessen says he advises clients to use high-quality items to create company swag that employees would want to keep and use, such as North Face jackets, lululemon athletic gear, and Yeti cups.

“What if you could buy swag that everybody is going to love? It will help you retain employees and promote the business so that people want to work there,” says Jessen, who writes articles on marketing, custom merchandise, and other topics for trade magazines.

He says there are three R’s to leveraging the power of swag for employers: Retention, recruitment, and recognition.

He cites Amazon as an example of a company that emphasizes employee retention. Each Amazon warehouse has its own branding, the Spokane warehouse is dubbed GEG 2 and has a grizzly bear mascot. Custom swag distributed to employees has the grizzly bear and a paw print, and the name GEG 2, instead of Amazon. At the Amazon warehouse in Boise, Idaho, the team mascot is a mustang.

“Even though they are one of the biggest companies in the world, they still try to do things to give (employees) their own sense of community,” he says.

On the retail side of custom merchandise, Jessen says many businesses have a brand that people are drawn to and want to be associated with because it creates a sense of community while also describing the consumers’ interests.

“Bars, restaurants, breweries, and distilleries will actually make a profit on it because they have a brand,” says Jessen.

Jessen says, when he first formed Zome Design, he was working until midnight most days and was consumed with work. Now that he has built his company, he wants to focus on sustaining a business that he can pass down or sell and nurturing work-life balance for his staff.

During the pandemic, he implemented a four-day work week that allows production staff to have three-day weekends after working 10-hour shifts Monday through Thursday. His administrative staff works nine hours Monday through Thursday and half-days from home on Fridays in order to answer phones.

“People love the three-day weekend,” says Jessen. “It’s created more work-life balance.”

Jessen says the company also provides snacks and plans to expand its kitchen. He also makes sure that his employees benefit from his beliefs in the power of swag and gives employees Zome Design-branded swag for themselves, family, and friends.

“This past year, I’ve been going all in on making a really cool swag bag,” he says. “I need to practice what I preach.”

Karina Elias
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Reporter Karina Elias covers the banking and finance industry. A California native, she attended the University of California at Santa Barbara. Karina loves salsa dancing, traveling, baking, cuddling with her dog, and writing creative fiction and non-fiction.  

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