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‘Welcome to Chaos Central’: Gonzaga Exists apparel is a high stakes gamble

UPDATED: Sat., March 30, 2019

One of the most nail-biting NCAA watch parties may be at Zome Design, the screen printing shop responsible for the “Gonzaga Exists” T-shirts and sweatshirts.

“I’ll tell you what though, for a place that doesn’t exist, it’s sure making us busy,” joked Zane Troester, Zome Design senior account manager.

During March Madness, Troester said a better name for the shop might be “Chaos Central.” And this season could shape up to be the craziest yet.

Jimmy Kimmel’s bit on his late-night talk show — and the subsequent madness — has been quite a boon for Zome. Troester approximates 7,000 items have sold, but it’s hard to be sure because they keep printing them.

“We were sitting there thinking, man, Jimmy Kimmel throwing this joke out there that whether or not Gonzaga exists, there could be some real traction here,” Troester said.

Part of Zome’s success is that it struck while the iron was hot, Troester said. The third morning after the show aired, the team was developing concepts for apparel.

“There’s a wave out there, but you gotta know how to ride that wave, and we are pretty good at that,” Troester said.

He credits this foresight to co-owner and founder Brayden Jessen.

“Part of the chaos is we want to get all hands on deck to make sure we can get this stuff out to fans as quickly as possible, because it could be over in a second,” Jessen said.

The attitude at Zome is a bit complicated.

As Troester put it, if Gonzaga loses — which they won’t — but “in the possible event that Texas Tech gets lucky, or one of the referees has a really bad game,” the forecast for Zome and the businesses carrying its merchandise changes dramatically.

“We’ll have our entire crew waiting for the game to end. As soon as that game ends, we rip open those boxes and start printing through the night,” Jessen said.

The grocery stores Zome supplies had a big meeting Friday.

“They’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place, because even though ‘Gonzaga Exists’ doesn’t have anything to do with the Zags winning or losing, it does because it’s a big piece of momentum,” Troester said.

A sore subject around Zome is the 2017 season when the Bulldogs made it to the finals. The design for the not-meant-to-be shirt had been finalized and approved by the university. One test printing, to make sure everything is just right. On pallets, 15,000 pre-ordered T-shirts, ready to go.

As the fates would have it, those boxes remained taped shut. The earnings that could have been? That stung.

“I always joke with people that we were 20 seconds away,” Troester said. “Everybody talks about gambling and putting money up and taking a big risk, well, we don’t technically put money up, but two years ago I lost $300,000 in 24 minutes.”

As for that lone shirt? Relinquished to Gonzaga, never to be seen again.

On top of logistics, another worry for the folks at Zome is copycats.

“Every hour there’s some new pop-up website that’s exactly copying our design and trying to sell it,” Jessen said.

Gonzaga pockets 12 percent in licensing fees from Zome sales, Jessen said.

Local businesses want in on the trend, as well. In their storefront window, Helix Winery put a giant cutout of Jimmy Kimmel’s head, posed wearing the “Gonzaga Exists” T-shirt. Helix tasting room manager Kristopher James said they went to Zome to see the merchandise printed themselves.

“It’s fun, people get involved and (it’s) a sense of community for Spokane,” James said. “… A national stage is always fun.”

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