Mitra Friant has stamped an impressive path.
Photo courtesy of Mitra Friant.
Mitra Friant’s rubber stamp company takes its name — Impression Obsession — from her customers’ enthusiasm for the stamping craft. “Most people who are into it are really into it,” she says.
What started as a part-time job on Friant’s dining room table in Williamsburg in 1998 has turned into an international business. Impression Obsession stamps are sold in over 1,100 stores in the United States and are distributed in England, Australia and Canada.
A former high school math and computer teacher, Friant (Religious Studies ’88) started the company with friend and fellow teacher Charmaine Jackson. After being inspired by a home stamping demonstration Jackson hosted at her home, the two women chose the work of watercolor artist Gary Robertson for their initial stamps. In 1998, they sent out the inaugural Impression Obsession catalog with 92 images to stamp stores across the country. Robertson’s original designs, especially his watercolor of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, are still some of the company’s most popular stamps.
Impression Obsession “is a much bigger deal than I ever thought it would be,” Friant says. “It’s really strange to quit your job to do it.” Jackson decided to continue teaching, and Friant is now the sole owner of the Impression Obsession, which has five full-time employees, including Friant’s husband.
Friant and her employees perform every part of the eight-hour stamp-making process. It’s a “low tech kind of thing,” she explains as she pulls out a manual that came with her brand new mold-making machine. The manual was printed in 1965.
A stampmaker first decides on a design and then finds a pre-made magnesium plate with the appropriate engraving. The 6-by-9-inch plates include multiple stamp designs. Natural red rubber is placed over the engraving plates, which then go into an impressing machine (the Vulcanizer) set at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once the rubber comes out of the Vulcanizer, Friant and her employees cut out the design with a saw. Then, the stamp is mounted onto hard maple, the only acceptable wood for the true stamp connoisseur. The wood, which comes from Arizona, is, as Friant puts it, “wildly expensive” and is one of the most costly aspects of the stamping process.
Friant knew relatively little about making stamps when she started the company. “We did everything the hard way,” she says. One person, she recalls, finally told her that she could buy a saw to cut out the stamps instead of using expensive scissors that did not work as well.
Friant knows the difficulties of the highly cyclical arts and crafts business and says stampers must diversify to other areas of papercraft. “Stamping itself has sort of waned a bit,” she says, to scrapbooking, an industry that is currently booming. Her biggest challenge is to constantly reinvent her company to adapt her product to scrapbooking, an industry she believes crosses paths with stamping.
She also hopes to bring her former teaching experience and her stamping business together to create a line of stamps for teachers.
“Stamping,” says Friant, “is all about making impressions.”