Belle International Holdings, which reported a 14.9 per cent increase in interim profit, said it will focus on expanding its footwear business as growth in sportswear remains sluggish in China. The firm, which has 9,325 stores across the nation, plans to add 600 to 700 new footwear stores this year, of which 287 opened in the first half. Belle will shut 346 sportswear stores amid poor sales and narrowed profit margins. The company will sell the mainland and Hong Kong franchise of Fila products to Anta Sports Products for at least 363 million yuan (HK$411.82 million) after buying it for 328 million yuan in the second half of 2007. Chief executive Sheng Baijiao said offloading the Fila franchise was part of the company's strategy of shifting focus to its footwear business. 'China's sportswear industry is consolidating after the sales boom during the Beijing Olympic Games,' he said, adding that second-tier sportswear brands were more deeply affected by the economic crisis. Sportswear, which accounted for 42.9 per cent of total revenue for the first half, recorded a 7.1 per cent decline in same store sales. Footwear's same store sales grew 7.4 per cent. Belle expects slightly lower sales growth in the second half from the first as it plans to cut back on promotions and lift margins on footwear products despite weak consumer sentiment amid the downturn. 'We still haven't seen a fundamental recovery of China's retail market even though the worst time has passed,' Mr Sheng said. Net profit for the six months to June rose 14.9 per cent to 1.14 billion yuan on higher sales boosted by promotions. Revenue also increased 13.14 per cent to 9.31 billion yuan. Shares in Belle fell 2.37 per cent to close at HK$7.43 yesterday. It will pay an interim dividend of 3.5 fen.