We’re in what Debbie McArthur calls “the war room on steroids”—a windowless room in the Integra Fabrics factory in Loris that’s been swallowed up by two-tier racks hung with fabric swatches on all four walls.
She’s unraveling a fabric swatch from a cluttered stack on one long conference table that has an almost three-dimensional texture of sea anemones for one of her resort hotel clients. Next, she holds up a swatch of upholstery wrapped in peeling birch trees for a resort in Colorado. A graffiti-style swatch for Hard Rock Hotel is rolled up next to a wrought iron chair with a modern geometric honeycomb design seat pad. I have to touch it to confirm that it’s smooth.
“Isn’t it awesome?” asks McArthur.
It is. The fact that Integra can digitally transfer print artwork onto fabrics for upholstery, drapery and bedding for hotels and resorts worldwide from right here in Loris is awesome.
“With digital, you can print one yard of a total custom and it’s simple and clients can have exactly what they want,” says McArthur, president and CEO.
She tells me, for example, how she had a designer in Las Vegas who called her with a grandiose idea, as only Las Vegas can handle, of a 40-foot-tall ombre-gradient fabric that resembles a glistening waterfall. McArthur delivered, digitally printing the waterfall on sheer organza, and her client got what she wanted sans sewing and cutting.
It may sound like it requires mostly artistry, but McArthur says it takes a lot of listening to clients, people skills and relationship-building—something she honed with her 11 years in education as an elementary and middle school teacher and assistant principal. “This job also requires being flexible and nimble,” says the University of Georgia alum. “As a principal, I could walk down one hall and all was fine, but I’d walk down the next hall and it was all kids on hormones.”
McArthur’s transition from education to a segment of the hospitality industry happened in 1995. “Have you ever figured out you could do something that you never had a real strong interest in doing before, but you were really good at it?” she asks. “It’s like this God-given talent. … So I put together a collection of fabrics and in the first three years, it grew by 100 percent.”
Integra Fabrics also grew from two employees to 25, and from working out of a two-story apartment building in North Myrtle Beach to a 70,000-square-foot factory on 17 acres in Loris. McArthur began with European styles, but the fashion industry drives the hospitality industry’s styles and color palettes.
“You see how prints and patterns have made a huge comeback in fashion, and the same for us,” she says. “Everything used to be very minimalist and subdued for a while—grays, whites and creams. Now when you look around, everyone is colorful. And that’s what makes it exciting—when it changes.”
Stacks of fashion magazines are stored everywhere in the building for market research, but the hospitality trends don’t change with the seasons—it’s more like every five to seven years for replacement cloth.
And, although the Integra team just purchased 30 pieces of artwork in the last few months to turn them into upholstery products, contract fabrics are under hefty restrictions. “There are parameters like flame-retardant codes for fabrics, abrasion for upholstery,” says McArthur. “So your choices in fabrics get narrowed down greatly, unlike in residential.”
Despite that, McArthur has made Integra Fabrics stand out worldwide, producing fabrics for the suite schemes in the Bellagio and most of the other hotels on the Vegas strip, custom embossed leather for The Peninsula Hotels in Paris and Hong Kong and designs for the Four Seasons.
“It’s really fun!” she says. “People think that we just deliver to Myrtle Beach because of our location in proximity to this resort area. … I think that’s what is so interesting: that we’re an anomaly. We’re a manufacturing facility in Horry County. The beach is driven by beach, golf, hotels and events. To have true manufacturing here is great.”
Integra Fabrics proudly uses fabrics produced in the U.S., and more specifically in Pennsylvania and the Carolinas (Milliken, based in Spartanburg, and Copland Fabrics in Burlington, N.C., are both huge sources).
“Providing that product, which is 80 percent domestic, is a huge factor for our clients because of quality assurance and speed of delivery,” she says. She shows me a new mantra printed on a banner hanging in the hallway: “We will be our client’s first choice for fabrics.”
McArthur, who is on the board of the Coastal Industrial Alliance, also hopes folks are made aware of all the hidden talents the Myrtle Beach area has—not just tourism. Integra Fabrics, tucked away in rural Loris, S.C., is certainly one of these creative gems.