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A successful mismatch?

Company embraces concept of solitary socks

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The company targets girls age 8 to 12, many of whom were mismatching socks well before LittleMissMatched came along, notes Staw.

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(CNN) -- It is one of life's greatest mysteries: What ever happened to the other sock?

Some cite rogue washing machines that feed on the helpless foot-warmers. Others blame mischievous sock fairies who spirit away the otherwise understated fashion fundamentals.

And then there are the people at LittleMissMatched. They don't expend energy looking for lost partners, nor do they grieve for solitary socks. Rather, they revel in them.

The fledgling company sells socks that do not match, in a variety of colors and patterns. To ensure that every sock has its independence, they come exclusively in odd numbered packs of three and seven.

"The missing sock is never going to go away," said Arielle Eckstut, one of the company's founders. "This is a way to really have fun with a real-world problem: that people lose their socks ... Let's embrace the problem, and run with it."

Conceived of in 2003, LittleMissMatched has exploded in the past year. Today, more than 600,000 of its socks can be found in more than 600 stores, according to the company's three founders. One of them, Jonah Staw, has told National Public Radio that LittleMissMatched could soon be worth $100 million.

In time, the company hopes to go beyond the "tween" (age 8-12) girl market, and beyond socks, with products that complement its brand.

"[LittleMissMatched] is a lifestyle brand ... about breaking the rules and doing things differently, and empowering girls to make their own fashion statements," said Jason Dorf, another company founder. "In today's market, that's a unique position to be in."

8,911 combinations

People have been losing and clashing socks since they first appeared on people's feet. A little more than two years ago, a few friends met in San Francisco, California, intent on turning the phenomenon into a business.

The talk soon turned to their target demographic -- 8 to 12-year-old girls, many of whom were mismatching socks already, Staw said.

LittleMissMatched aims to tap into the good-humored rebellion, affinity for bright colors and sense of individuality commonly found in that group.

"This is really a crucial age, where girls still get to be girls," said Eckstut, calling many other products marketed to this demographic "oversexualized" and more befitting girls in their teens or older. "They can be creative and playful."

Each sock features classic symbols and features, like polka dots, stripes, hearts, flowers and waves. The patterned socks come in four color systems, characterized by LittleMissMatched as "fabulous," "marvelous," "kooky" and "zany," which each incorporate elements of the other three.

It adds up to 8,911 possible combinations -- enough that a person could wear a different pair of Little Miss Matched socks every day for 24 years.

Each sock is assigned a specific name and number, like "Marvelous 13" or "Kooky 25." The idea is to make the socks collectible, much like baseball cards or Beanie Babies, so people keep coming back for more.

Thinking big

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There are four color waves -- kooky, marvelous, fabulous and zany -- which combine with patterns to create 134 different versions.

Such measures -- along with selling odd-numbered packs, an approach that LittleMissMatched has patented -- are aimed at setting the company apart from others in the $6 billion-a-year sock business, an industry not often associated with innovation.

"The whole idea is thinking about the sock drawer in a new way," Dorf said.

The leaders of LittleMissMatched have thought big from the outset, aligning with large manufacturers to make a product that is then sold at large retailers, like Nordstrom and Linens 'n Things.

Its founders envision LittleMissMatched becoming an all-encompassing brand that will reach boys as well as girls, babies and older women, even adult men. They also hope to move beyond socks into books, bedding, sleepwear and other apparel.

A cartoon character and soon-to-be subject of her own book, who goes by the name of LittleMissMatched, defines the brand. The free spirit enjoys fencing, playing her tuba and spending quality time with her cat, Chili Pepper. And not surprisingly, she embraces clothes that clash.

"That character stands for a whole way of life," Staw said. "It's a life of mixing and matching. So it's much bigger than just socks."

But it's one thing to create a novel product, and quite another to create a brand that will grow and sell for many years to come.

"We're trying to create a timeless design, so that this is something that sticks around," Staw said.

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