Casual footwear maker Skechers USA Inc is expanding its operations in China through a new joint venture with Hong Kong based conglomerate Luen Thai Enterprises.

The joint venture, known as Skechers China, expects to open more than 1200 points-of-sale for the brand across China over the next three years.

In addition to footwear, Skechers China will design and market a collection of Skechers-branded men's and women's active and leisure wear.

The apparel, which is expected to reach market in 2009, will be designed as an extension of the footwear and should further grow the brand in China.

"China's share of the global footwear market is estimated at close to $9bn for 2008 with this number increasing due to the growing middle class," stated Willie Tan, CEO of Luen Thai Enterprises and Skechers China.

He said Skechers China expects to reach $10m to $15m of sales by year-end 2008.

Michael Greenberg, president of Skechers and chairman of Skechers China, added: "To Skechers, China is a country of giant potential - 1.3bn people, steady market growth and rapid retail growth."

The first shipments through the joint venture are planned for the Chinese New Year, in February 2008.

Skechers said the joint venture will increase its existing flagship store base from three to 10 locations from three by the end of 2009. The locations will include Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzen and Guangzhou.

The companies also plan to expand distribution to another 250 points-of-sale in the next two years, and more than double Skechers' dedicated stores in 2009.

Privately held Luen Thai Enterprises is part of $1bn group of companies that also includes footwear manufacturing, logistics, hotel, travel and tour operations.

Mr Tan said Skechers aims to be "the leading lifestyle footwear brand in China."