Elements Wood Imports was founded in Colorado in 2017 by Michael and Carly Hester. We work with a partner company in Saint Lucia, C&C Industries, which is owned by Michael’s sister and brother-in-law. We are the first, and only, exporters and importers of timber from Saint Lucia to the US. We pride ourselves on being a boutique supplier of rare tropical hardwoods that sustainably benefit the local Lucian economy.
Elements Wood Imports was envisioned while we were vacationing and visiting family on the gorgeous island of St. Lucia in the South Caribbean. My sister, Christina, is married to a native Lucian, Chester, and the island has been their home for over a decade. When we traveled to the island with our 6-month-old son, we had no idea that we would leave 10 days later energized to become entrepreneurs.
There were really two separate happenings that prompted us to take on the business of importing tropical hardwoods. Primarily, I am a hobby woodworker, and while discussing some of my projects, my sister showed us her beautiful bedroom set custom made from Mahogany by a local woodworker. I thought for sure it must have cost a small fortune, but they said it was actually cheaper than purchasing something that had been shipped and imported (and was of good quality). A couple days later, we were driving up the coast and taking in the endless greenery and breathtaking views. We passed a giant of a tree, and I asked, “What kind of tree is that?”. My brother-in-law replied, “Mahogany”. I had never seen a Mahogany tree before and had no idea that they were so massive. The gears instantly started turning, and I was quickly doing calculations on how much the wood in a tree like that was worth back home in Colorado. I had a rough idea of the retail price for (genuine) Mahogany, and quickly whipped out my phone to start doing the math. I couldn’t believe it at first as it just seemed too unreal. A single giant Mahogany tree contained many thousands of dollars in wood (at retail prices). My sister and her husband could not believe it either. They are used to Mahogany being very inexpensive and readily available. So much so that some natives burn it to make charcoal for cooking.
The trip had ended, but I kept thinking of what I would do to get my hands on that much Mahogany, and the beautiful pieces I could build in my woodshop. We started paying attention to other wood species as well. The island has a good-sized native population of rare woods, such as Blue Mahoe, West Indian Satinwood, Bay Laurel, and Mango. Mango is not that rare of a species, but it is rather rare in the US hardwood market, and that is what we were targeting. We kept pondering, discussing, thinking about logistics, and trying to punch holes in the idea. My sister and her husband kept wondering why nobody else is doing it if it is such a great idea.
While doing research, of which we did an immense amount, I found a reason to their nagging question about why nobody else was doing it. In a document from the Forestry and Agricultural organization, it states that there is little concern about the exploitation of timber on St. Lucia due to the inaccessibility of most of the island. St. Lucia is a volcanic island (with active volcanic vents), and the terrain is very rugged. There is simply not enough accessible timber to have a bustling export economy, such as in Brazil, Guyana, Honduras, and other nearby locations. There is, however, plenty of timber for a small import business that prides itself on excellent customer service and hard to obtain species. One of our first massive mahogany trees felled was an “eyesore” on an owner’s property and requested that it be cut down.
Importing timber into the US involves thousands of pages of regulations, permits, manuals, and “red tape”. It took nearly 2.5 years to get everything in order in the US and Saint Lucia. In that time, we have designed and built a large workshop, moved to Boulder County, CO, expanded my woodworking skills, had a baby girl, made new friends and business contacts, and continually refined our business plan. Our first shipment of 15 Big-Leaf Mahogany (Swietenia Macrophylla) logs departed Saint Lucia on 8/15/2019.
We are now on to the next part of our adventure: milling, drying, and sales. Please check back regularly for information on purchasing some of our beautiful hardwoods.