Footwear retail giant Payless ShoeSource has taken a major step in its international expansion effort with the first store openings in the eastern hemisphere. 

Working with its franchisee, retailer MH Alshaya Co, the company launched its first Payless ShoeSource stores in the Middle East at the weekend - in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

"These grand openings represent a significant milestone in the  international expansion of our Payless stores, as well as many firsts for Payless - our entrance into the Middle East, the eastern hemisphere, and to franchise our stores," said Matthew Rubel, chairman, CEO and president of Collective Brands Inc, which owns  Payless ShoeSource.  

Through the franchise arrangement, Payless provides Alshaya with retail operations and merchandising expertise. 

Alshaya provides retail location strategy, construction, logistics, and store staffing. 

It will also utilise Payless' newest store format, referred to as the 'Hot Zone,' and purchase Payless product directly from Payless' seasonal assortment. 

Like the Payless stores in the US, the stores in the Middle East feature shoes and accessories for women, men and children. 

Brands on sale include Airwalk, American Eagle, Smartfit, and the Disney collection, as well as Payless Designer Collections.

Payless currently operates more than 4,500 stores in the US, Canada and in Central America, the Caribbean, and South America through a combination of joint ventures and wholly owned subsidiaries.

Under the multi-year franchise agreement, Payless and Alshaya believe the Middle East could, in the long term, support more than 200 stores.