Balancing the Grind with Tina Funder, Founder of Alt. Leather

Meet Tina Funder, the visionary behind Alt. Leather, Australia’s trailblazing venture in biobased leather alternatives. In this interview, Tina takes us through her remarkable transition from an 18-year-long career in advertising to founding a pioneering sustainable brand. With Alt. Leather, she is redefining the industry, turning waste and regenerative plants into innovative textiles for multiple applications, from fashion to automotive interiors.

In our conversation, Tina shares her daily life, which is anything but typical. Balancing pitches to investors with strategic meetings and R&D discussions, she navigates the dynamic and challenging world of a startup. Amid this whirlwind, Tina maintains non-negotiable personal commitments, from morning exercises to family dinners, emphasising the importance of work-life balance.

Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?

I have worked in the advertising industry for around 18 years, solving problems for brands large and small all over the world. There is a lot to love about the industry: the people, the teamwork, the travel, the creativity, the strategy, the fast paced, deadline driven work. But I always longed for something more purpose driven.

In 2019, I learnt of a cactus leather-alternative being made out of Mexico. I became fascinated with biomaterials and launched my own handbag label LOM Australia using cactus and apple ‘leathers’. During the time it took to build and launch the brand, I tested many of the existing materials on the market and identified a gap in terms of completely plastic-free alternatives.

I now work with an incredible team of scientists developing a circular leather alternative. Petroleum plastic free. Animal free. Ethically made in Australia.

We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?

There is no such thing as a typical day. Every day is full of surprises. 

The last few months have been focused on our first capital raise, pitching to investors, kind of like shark tank multiple times a day. Today, I’m working from the Circularity Live conference in Melbourne.

There are a few non-negotiables in every day:

05:45 – 07:00 exercise with my husband and dog

12:30 – 13:00 lunch as a team at the lab

19:00 dinner with the family a minimum of 3 times/week

In and around this, it’s meeting with investors, potential clients, suppliers, and the R&D team. I work across all aspects of the business with a current focus on implementing external partnerships to help accelerate our material development and fine-tuning our go-to-market strategy.

Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?

Morning exercise for mental health – walk, run or yoga.

Avoiding alcohol during the week.

Aiming to be asleep before 10:30 pm whenever possible.

I haven’t got the balance right yet. I work late most nights and most weekends, but I think that’s the nature of a start-up in its infancy.

Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?

We have been full steam ahead getting the business off the ground over the last 18 months. I recognise the need for change to allow myself and the team the space and opportunity to think more creatively and strategically.

A few changes I’m keen to implement on a personal level:

  • Switching off from work for one full day each weekend to spend quality time with the family.
  • Arranging a carer to assist with the after-school juggle this will a) give the kids a dedicated human to assist with their needs b) extend my workday in the lab for greater productivity c) help with less late nights.
  • Celebrating the small wins.

We’re always on the lookout for new resources! Can you recommend any books, podcasts, or newsletters that have helped you in your journey towards balance?

  • The Squiz podcast for daily news ‘your shortcut to being informed’
  • Grit by Angela Duckworth
  • Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard 

Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

“Leave it with me” or “I’ll get back to you on that” are great responses to give yourself space to consider whether or not it’s a meeting you need to take or an opportunity you wish to pursue. Instead of instantly saying yes and regretting it.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.