PROJECT #BEYOUROWN WOMAN: ALEXANDRA CLIMENT
Alexandra Climent was first exposed to the beauty of certain species of exotic wood while in the jungles of Central and South America. It was born out of her fervent belief that showcasing such magnificent species of wood is contingent solely upon responsible and sustainable sourcing. Frequently going on excursions to gather naturally felled lumbar and to dig up stumps from the jungle floor yielded many rarely seen, rarely worked exotic species. Each piece represents the beauty that nature has bestowed upon us, sourced and delivered sustainably. Each piece is selected, designed, worked, and finished by Alexandra at her wood shop in Brooklyn, NY.
When I was younger I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wasnʼt on a certain path like many others seemed to be and struggled with the idea of having to pay for college on my own. I never knew that I would be sitting here today writing about my journey to becoming a woodworker and artist.
I started out working as a secretary for a construction company in order to pay for school. I went to FIT, with no real plan of what I wanted to do. It was hard to focus fully on school while I was working a full-time job, but I managed. My job at the construction company was a bit monotonous and I mainly answered phones, entered bills and did payroll but I was always listening about the jobs that they were building and bidding and this is how wood first got on my radar. All the other people at my school were working seemingly cool fashion jobs and I was definitely looked at as weird for working at a construction company, which didn’t quite bother me but I did want to do something else that made me proud.
It started with the construction company having a need for a very specific type of hardwood from South America and not being able to find it readily in the states. The wood was used for building material because of its high resistance in water and it started to pique my interest. I decided that it may be a good idea to try to go and find the wood myself and sell it back to the construction company. There were many people who didn’t quite take me seriously but the owner was interested and we made my first trip down to South America happen. It was hard to go to a place where women were not respected as business people and when I was down there most people thought I was working on the behalf of someone else. I remember signing my name as “Alex” in any email exchanges instead of “Alexandra” so that they wouldn’t question me. I had to work very hard to gain respect and still struggle with it until this day. Educating myself on what I was dealing with and always being one step ahead helped me eventually gain respect and I was able to form some great relationships.
Being down in South America changed my life. It turned out that after seeing the wood down there, I wanted to find a way for people back in the states to see how beautiful it was. I decided that instead of importing it solely for the construction company, I would discover ways to find wood that otherwise would have gone to waste (fallen trees by storms, stumps in the ground) and try to ship them back to the US.
This idea I had turned into years and years of work. It took a very long time for the wood I had found to arrive in NYC and I had to work several jobs I disliked while making it all happen. I donʼt think anyone believed that I would ever get it here and be able to do something with it. Once the wood finally arrived, I had to teach myself to work with it. There were so many obstacles working with this wood because of its density, but I finally quit my day job and took on woodworking full time. I can now proudly say that I have made many pieces, both large and small, that Iʼm very proud of. Teaching myself was not easy, and finding space to work without many funds was hard as well, but I believe these obstacles helped me put the necessary passion into designing and making my work.
Being a woman walking into a very male-dominated industry was very tough. I was working in shared shop space and I was the only female. Most of the time, all would be good and I would be left alone to do my work but I was often told “you shouldn’t do it like this, you should do it this way” and getting asked questions like “why are you not married?”. It seemed like it was hard to believe for a lot of the men that I was doing this full time and not as a hobby. I think when a lot of their ideas for working with my wood failed (if I let them try), it made them start to respect me. The type of woodworking techniques that most seasoned woodworkers know, simply does not apply to my wood because of its density. I also had to deal with a lot of “mansplaining” on Instagram. Mostly this came when I would post a video. Also, many people would tell me I should figure out if I wanted to be a woodworker or a model and choose one. It was insane, like why can’t a woman be more than one thing? I began to realise that even though these people made me upset, the positive responses greatly outweighed the negative. If what I was doing were easy, everyone would be doing it and along with success comes haters, it’s just your choice how you choose to channel that energy. I also believe with so many women speaking up for themselves and demanding respect and accountability has helped things move in the right direction and has helped me feel confident in sticking up for myself and allow myself to be proud of how far I’ve come. It’s so important that women stand behind each other and lift one another up. This is the time to all come together and become whoever we want to be, even if it’s not normal in society. I couldn’t be happier I picked a field of work that allows me to be artistic and appreciate nature. I would urge every woman to push forward and do something out of the ordinary because you never know what kind of greatness is waiting for you on the other side of all the obstacles.