Slimma, the ladies' wear company based in Leek, Stafford-shire, has all but completed a five-year shift into its own brands and away from making private label clothes on contract for high street chains.

In the year to last September, branded sales accounted for 81 per cent of the total. This year chief executive Stephen Thwaite expects that to rise to 92 per cent.

Two smart labels Frank Usher and Peter Martin, whose dresses retail for £400 or more, account for 70 per cent of these branded sales, he added.

The third brand, Slimma, had a middle market clientele, buying from mail order catalogues and independent shops. The number of these shops is falling as they succumb to price-cutting by the chains.

Last year Slimma's profits rose by 6.7 per cent to £1.017 million on sales 10.6 percent down at £23.187 million, a dip due largely to the exit from contract clothing.

That also involved 17 redundancies at Leek costing £83,000. Without this exceptional charge, profits of £1.1 million were 15.4 per cent ahead.

Despite that, Slimma is not raising its dividend. A final pay-out of 2.00p leaves the total at 3.5p. The shares edged 1.2p higher to 621.2p, 9.3 times the year's earnings, where they yield 5.6 per cent. ..SUPL: