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How a small business grew from an eco-friendly idea to a full-fledged theater memento shop

The six-year-old company Scenery Bags upcycles theatrical drops, flooring and more into handbags and fine jewelry to benefit the planet, multiple charities and the theatrical ecosystem.

(L-R) Jennifer Kahn and Scenery Bags merchandise (Credit: Kali Deming and Courtesy of Scenery Bags)

On a 2015 road trip up the east coast to Maine, then-Broadway stage manager Jennifer Kahn stumbled upon a local artisan shop, Sea Bags, which repurposed sailboat sails into bags. In addition to stage-managing, Kahn ran a blog about eco-friendly style. In that moment, her problem-solving theater brain and passion for the environment suddenly collided. “I immediately thought about [stage] drops,” Kahn remembered. “It’s just one giant piece of fabric. I thought, ‘We can easily upcycle those into bags.’”

Kicking it into gear, Kahn dialed former stage manager Brian Wells, who established the Music and Theatre Company, which rents high-quality, affordable sets, costumes and props. One phone call and a flight later, Kahn possessed 600 pounds of retired drops — donated to her by Wells. After two years of incubation, in July 2017, Kahn posted to Instagram the first run of 25 clutches made of theatrical draping. “They sold out in 24 hours,” she said. Scenery Bags was launched.

By the end of the first month, Scenery Bags had received more than 4,000 preorders — many more than Kahn expected or could handle at the time. “I broke the list out into an Excel spreadsheet using all of my stage manager-ness and talked to my manufacturers. They said they could do 500 bags a week,” Kahn said. So Kahn let her patrons know they could have a refund or wait for the next run. Only five people asked for their money back; the rest waited to hear back. “People would post on their Instagram stories, ‘My number’s up, I got the email!’ It [felt] like a lottery system.”

Over the past six years, Kahn has graduated from Instagram orders and an Excel spreadsheet, and Scenery Bags has expanded its merchandise. Kahn processes orders through Scenery’s website; she has three Houston-based manufacturers and part-time workers who help with packaging and distribution. The shop continually produces multiple styles of handbags, totes and messenger bags — all made from the stage drops of Broadway shows like  “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Rocky” and “Prince of Broadway,”  as well as black drops (known as “legs” that separate a theater’s onstage and offstage) and fabrics from touring and regional productions.

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