Individual investors including Tesla chair Robyn Denholm have invested in plant-based “leather” start-up Alt.Leather.

The Melbourne company has raised $1.1 million in a seed-funding round which includes Denholm’s family investment company Wollemi Capital Group, family-owned fashion wholesaler Austin Group, other individual investors, LaunchVic’s Alice Anderson Fund and accelerator Startmate. Startmate had already provided pre-seed funding to Alt.Leather.

Tina Funder, who previously worked in the advertising industry, launched vegan handbag company LOM Australia in 2021 and Alt.Leather in 2022.

LOM handbags and accessories are made from plant-based materials including apple and cactus. Alt.Leather is working towards producing a wider range of products made from a leather substitute derived primarily from biomass from agricultural industries processing vegetable products such as pineapples, cork, tomatoes, mushrooms and grapes, plus regenerative plant-based ingredients.

With major brands like Tesla and Apple announcing bans on the use of animal leather due to environmental impact and the world transitioning away from fossil fuel-derived synthetics, Funder believes there is increasing global demand for leather alternatives across multiple verticals including fashion, footwear, furniture and automotive interiors.

Prior to launching LOM, she had tested many bio-based leather alternatives and had been unable to find a suitable material that was petrochemical-free.

The company has continued experimenting, growing its research team from one to four over 2023, and has now developed a base material that looks and feels like leather.

Alt.Leather chief scientific officer Dr Tuan Nguyen said: “We have developed a patentable material composition and technology to produce a leather alternative that is both durable and commercially scalable. Our material uses a combination of waste streams and regenerative plant derivatives available in abundance globally.”

The seed-funding is intended to enable Alt.Leather to access advanced equipment and university research, file a provisional patent and enter into sample production with a range of brands.

LaunchVic is financed by the Victoria state government and its Alice Anderson Fund was set up to back women founders.

Wollemi Capital Group, which is not connected with Sydney investment firm Wollemi Capital, is led by chief executive Victoria Denholm, daughter of Robyn Denholm.  

Image: Alt.Leather founder Tina Funder.