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Sensible shoes walk off with export award K SHOES

While the British shoe industry is being battered by the chic from Italy and the cheap from Eastern Europe, a sensible, comfortable, flat women's shoe made in Cumbria is soothing thousands of North American feet.

The Springers range - sold under the slogan "walk and go", because they do not need to be broken in - has also won K Shoes its first award for export since it was established more than 150 years ago. In its last financial year, K Shoes sent 948,579 pairs of shoes to North America, most of them in the 30 styles that comprise the Springers range. Despite the different appearances, they share several characteristics: flattish, widish, and shaped for the foot rather than the other way round.

Not only the Americans love them. More than 1.3 million pairs of K Shoes were exported to countries as diverse as Abu Dhabi and Venezuela. Last year, exports accounted for 37 per cent of all the K shoes made, and in eight years, exports increased by 72 per cent, doubling in the last three. John Keery, a spokesman for the C&J Clark group, which owns K Shoes, said: "We managed to do this by producing a product that people want to buy. Springers are not for the young end of the market but for women who are looking for comfort and a quality brand."

The shoes are produced in Kendall, Cumbria, in the same factory as the label started (the K is for Kendall). Some 1,000 people work in the main factory and in other premises in Cumbria, although Clark's biggest factory remains in Street, Somerset.

"The home market is difficult for all manufacturers," Mr Keery said. "We have a major presence in the high street and have managed to retain our market share, but our main growth area has been in exports."