Denver business specializing in “tin-can glam” fashions jewelry from recycled tomato sauce cans

What seemed like a fluke to Thomas Paul Althaus seven years ago is a steadily growing business that transforms used tin cans into earrings, cuff bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry.

The company, Canned Goods, made The Oprah Magazine’s “O list” of sustainable products in April. Althaus, who still works in his garage in Denver, has built a network of stores that sell his jewelry. And online sales continue to increase.

Althaus said it still feels surreal, the fact that what started out as a homemade gift morphed into a thriving enterprise. It began in June 2013 when he wanted to make a 10th wedding anniversary present for his wife, Emily. They had decided to spend money on travel, not gifts, but he still wanted to give her something.

“I looked up the 10th anniversary online and I saw that the traditional gift was tin,” Althaus said.

Looking at an empty can of beans, he wondered if he could turn it into something. “I said to my two boys, who were 6 and 8 at the time, ‘Let’s go out to the garage and see what we can make for mamma.’ ”

Althaus eventually crafted a pair of earrings and a bracelet, which he said his wife assumed he bought. When she learned he made them, she encouraged him to do more and came up with the name of Canned Goods for a company.

“She said, ‘We have to talk about this. You have some skills we haven’t tapped into yet,’ ” Althaus recalled.

The Denver company Canned Goods recycles used tin cans to make jewelry.

Although the new venture seemed surprising at the time, Althaus said it made sense in a lot of ways. He was a stay-at-home dad who previously had worked as the director of events at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and in marketing, sales and training at American Crew, a leader in men’s grooming products.

Althaus said he was always intrigued by fashion and dabbled a little in modeling. He also had a lot of experience working with his hands and adapting materials for different tasks, “manufacturing something out of nothing,” from having grown up on a farm in northern Illinois.

There was plenty of material around for him to work with in his new endeavor.

“Early on, I started walking the alleys on recycling day, sifting through people’s recycling bins. But that wasn’t very efficient,” Althaus said.

He found a local company that makes pasta sauce and salsa that agreed to give him as many as he wanted of the 500 empty tomato and chili cans usually tossed in the recycling bins every week. So, the “upcycling” began, resulting in what Althaus calls “tin-can glam.”

Besides wanting to make jewelry that looks good, Althaus said he wanted to make sustainable products that could do good. In support of its motto “We can do good together,” the business donates a can of food to charity for each item it sells. Canned Goods also employs people involved with Street’s Hope, an organization that works with people who have experienced human trafficking.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Canned Goods has had fewer people working.Stores that sell the jewelry closed for a while and are slowly reopening.

“Thankfully, our online sales have kept up and are growing,” Althaus said.

To help the businesses that helped expand Canned Goods’ customer base, the company launched “Better Together.”

“If the stores promote ordering through our website using a coupon code that we provide them, we actually give them their regular retail cut back,” Althaus said.

While not revealing the volume of Canned Goods’ sales, Althaus did say the company has donated nearly 20,000 cans of food. He said he’s happy with the “very low organic churn” when it comes to growth. The company has looked at partnering with large businesses that would place their products in many more outlets.

“As exciting as that would be, we feel like a slower healthy organic growth curve is more our speed, and it seems to suit our lifestyle,” Althaus said. “Ultimately, we hope it creates a healthier work environment and healthier business climate.”

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