Monetizing Memories and Personifying Brands - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

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1124_CAR Kenyan Lewis 12

Kenyan Lewis parlayed his passion for prop mastery into full-time income.

If one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, then Kenyan Lewis has made a living from the latter. As a prop master in Warwick, New York, finding vintage typewriters, worn photographs, and antique tools for clients is all in a day’s work.

Prop masters like Lewis help market or brand a product or concept by discriminately selecting and delicately positioning items throughout a venue or at a photo shoot to create the specific atmosphere that their clients want to convey. Many fashion designers or retailers hire prop masters on a freelance basis, but they can also work full time for the company. While prop masters can work with all genres and aesthetics, Lewis and his crew of three employees, sell, rent, and refurbish antiques for large and small businesses and private collectors.

For example, when Andre Benjamin (formerly Andre 3000 of the hip-hop duo Outkast) launched, Benjamin Bixby, his line of menswear in 2007, he hired Lewis’s business, ByKenyan Props, to create a 1930s football theme at boutiques set up for the clothing line in Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Harrods, and Liberty in London. Lewis’ montages came complete with old scoreboards, wool jerseys, and leather helmets. He even tracked down hot air balloon baskets to match with Benjamin Bixby’s logo. Lewis sourced items that ran with an old 1910 German fighter pilot theme for Benjamin Bixby’s Red Baron theme the next season.

In the 12 years since the 38-year-old prop master started his own business, he has collected nearly 5,000 antiques. Even though he stays away from providing props for movies, celebrities often seek his help to decorate their homes in an early Americana aesthetic. Because of the recession, Lewis predicts that his revenue will be $80,000 in 2009, which is below average, but in a good year he normally makes $200,000. Last year he brought in $120,000 just from one designer who was launching a new brand. talked with Lewis about his passion for props, the path that led him into the business, and his pointers for people who want to pursue his craft. What is a day in your life like?

Kenyan Lewis: It starts out with someone looking for something– a vintage ladder or bench, or old signage. My day consists of searching on the Internet, driving around town, calling sources, and at times reproducing items myself, which is a great joy because I am taking something new and giving it an old-world charm.

I travel at least three to four times a week. Sometimes I fly, but I have a huge old 1968 van, like an ice cream truck [that] I’ll take that to Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida, depending on where the antique markets are. I’m constantly looking for estate sales in newspapers and on the Web.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.