BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
We first were introduced to Thomas Althaus, owner and creator of Canned Goods, six years ago at a Firefly Handmade market. His booth was packed with people trying to get a closer look at his beautiful designs. We can only assume that they were in awe at the fact that his stunning creations, were made from literal tin cans. It’s hard to wrap your mind around this, when you see the quality and craftmaship behind each piece. Thomas graciously indulged us in the story of how Canned Goods came to be.
For those who are not familiar with your work, can you tell us how Canned Goods came to fruition?
CANNED GOODS started when back when my wife Emily and I had our tenth wedding anniversary. We had decided not to do gifts and get away instead, but I thought if I could not spend any money, perhaps I could still give her something. So I looked up 10 years of marriage, and I found that the traditional gift for 10 years is Tin. Then one night after dinner I saw an empty “Tin” can and thought perhaps I could make something out of it. So I took it to the garage, cut it apart, hit it with the hammer and in the end created a bracelet and a pair of earrings. I thought she’d laugh and would think it was a sweet idea. She loved them. She said you could sell these and your company name should be CANNED GOODS.
So we started thinking about it as a business idea, and decided that we wanted to give back to our community in some way – we developed our CAN DO GOOD program – we give one can of food to charity for each piece sold. We pitched our idea to one retail partner, he committed to 100 pieces. So Good. So from day one we were doing good, one can at a time.
You make your jewelry here in Denver, but your work has adorned people all over the world. What is that like from a maker’s perspective, to see your creations hit such a wide audience?
That’s right, we started in Denver back in 2013 and continue to headquarter and make all of our pieces here. What an amazingly supportive and respected place to start a new, innovative business. We’ve always been confident in how our business would evolve over the years but didn’t really think about how our products would be received around the world – from Russia to England to Vietnam to Germany to Italy – and, of course, all over the United States. It’s very exciting and humbling at the same time. To have our Tin Can Glam worn all around the world is the ultimate compliment and inspiration to keep on doing our good work.
What did you do before Canned Goods? Did you ever think you’d be creating jewelry for a living?
Immediately before CANNED GOODS I was a stay-at-home-dad which was probably why CG started in the first place, because it allowed me the headspace to even think I could do something like making those first pieces for my wife. Prior to that I was in charge of all events at the amazing Denver Museum of Science where my team and I produced events for the museum, and we also secured and produced private events ranging from community fundraisers, corporate parties to intimate weddings. Before that, I was involved in the start-up of a company called AMERICAN CREW, Grooming Products For Men. I had roles that evolved from managing sales regions to show management to corporate training. It was an amazing experience in a small rapidly growing company that allowed me to experience many facets of the business from building the brand, the production process to facilitating the delivery of the products to the end consumer.
I was fortunate to grow up in a small town outside of Chicago on a farm. That’s where I learned my work ethic and how to creatively make things with my hands. I’ve been a fan of fashion from very early on in my life. My Mother took me under her wing and used me as her consultant when she needed another opinion – she’d walk in to my room with two different earrings or shoes on and say, “Tommy, left or right?” So I learned how to “accessorize” at an early age. I’ve always loved studying fashion magazines and noticing the details – the geometry, the shadows, the textures, the hues, the structure. But in all reality, no, I never imagined this although it makes sense in hindsight. And I’m so excited to be able to help people feel good, look good and do good.
Oh, wow. Fun questions. The studio serves two purposes, it’s a place for creativity and inspiration while also being conducive to production and processing orders. It is a raw space that has been refined just enough to let the glam shine. A lot of random hanging lights shining on repurposed wood workbenches, shelving and displays. And, of course, lots of tin food cans in different stages of production.
Our process? We collect cans, wash cans, use vintage 1920’s can openers, tin snips, hammers, cutters, rollers, grinders, anvils, vices, etc. Nothing too high tech, all very user-friendly. We believe in creating opportunities for accessible employment. We have started working with Street’s Hope/Voluntad, an organization here in Denver that works with persons that have experienced exploitation associated with human trafficking. These individuals have the opportunity to work with us and our off-site production program. It has been a wonderful relationship –and are excited for the opportunities it presents.
Music? Always. It could be almost anything depending on who is in the shop – Victory Boyd, St. Vincent, The Drums, Nathaniel Rateliff, The National, Afrobeats, Folk, Jazz, Lenny Kravitz, The Chicks, Jorja Smith, Deee-lite, David Bowie, Elton John, Childish Gambino, The the, Erykah Badu, really anything…we can find the good in all of it!
You’ve used your platform to be very vocal about “Black Lives Matter.” This is something we appreciate and would love to see from more organizations. What advice can you give to other people about using their voices to speak up for marginalized communities?
We stand in solidarity with the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement against systemic racism, against white supremacy and needless police brutality. There’s no question in our minds that in order for our entire community, country and world to improve we have to lift up the marginalized…now, without hesitation.
Unfortunately, coming from a small town in Northern Illinois I didn’t experience much diversity growing up, but thankfully my parents were always willing to drive the 90 miles to Chicago for visits where we at least saw how life was working and not working for the Black communities. Then, I had a pretty revolutionary, brain-altering road trip with my family from Illinois to New Orleans. We made many stops in between at Civil War battlefields, plantations and learned a lot about Black people who were enslaved. We even saw the KKK in their white collecting donations at an intersection in Mississippi – I was disgusted and blown away that they still existed. How could anyone still think like that? I was taught to love all. Then we arrived in New Orleans and I fell in love with the culture, the music, the history, the gritty classic glam fashion, the diversity. I went home and started playing the trombone – became good friends with one of my only Black classmates and made an effort from there to make more friends with people who didn’t look like me. So fast forward to CANNED GOODS. From day one I’ve made sure our imagery reflected the colors of our world. Diversity is beautiful, essential, glamorous, good. Some of our most proud moments have been: sending a box of CG to the Obama’s in the White House, Erykah Badu accepting some pieces at a show, Victory Boyd wearing hers for an events for Nelson Mandella, one at The Apollo, and for the band The Roots. And a pretty amazing moment was being featured in Oprah’s April 2020 issue of O Mazazine in her “List.”
Advice? Some simple important advice we’ve all heard a lot: Listen, Learn and Act. We also have at our core, beliefs that are so relevant now – Be true. Be authentic. Be Transparent. Be Brave. Do Good In The World.
What can we expect from Canned Goods in the future?
Oh, the future right now is very uncertain, so many variables, not that we will cease to exist – but what it will look like exactly? Previously our business model focused on retail partners, but we all know that brick and mortar businesses are struggling with the COVID- 19 restrictions – so we’ve become creative in our support of our retail partners by allowing them to promote purchases via our website – and their clients can use a specific promo code (found on our website) to receive free shipping, and then we give 30% of the sale to the retail partner. We call this our BETTER TOGETHER program.
We will continue to collaborate with everyday people, models, and musicians, to show that CANNED GOODS is glam that is appropriate for most every occasion, from knocking around home, to zoom meetings/events, to weddings, to red carpets, to, well – anywhere you need a physical reminder of all the GOOD that is in me and out there in the world.
In short, in the future we will continue to focus more and more on rescuing cans from the landfill, creating accessible employment opportunities to produce/market our pieces, sharing Tin Can Glam with people around the world, giving cans of food to people in need. And, as always, proclaiming . . . We CAN DO GOOD Together.
For more information visit www.cannedgoods.net
Photo Credits Top to Bottom: JOEY GALLAHAN, STRETCH IG, ASTRID KALLSEN, ERIN HORN LONDON