Her husband LL COOL J may be a 90s dreamboat, but his wife, Simone Smith, is a superstar in her own right. One of the music industry's long-time love stories, the pair has been together for over two decades, since they were teenagers living in Queens, NY. In a frightening twist of fate, Smith battled a rare form of cancer, which inspired her to launch Simone I. Smith jewelry, meant to help women stay positive during trying times.
Smith, who was a stay-at-home mom while raising her three daughters and son, found her entire life suddenly shift when she was diagnosed with stage III chondrosarcoma in 2004. “It was life-altering and humbling. When the doctors tell you that you have cancer, it’s mind boggling but then you think about your children, husband, and everything, and you think ‘oh my God, what’s going to happen,” she says. “I had a two and a half year recovery. It took me two and a half years to learn how to walk again. Once I started to walk again, being able to get out and start my own business, a couple years before SIS, I launched a headscarf line [Ms Got Rocks], adorning all the bandanas [with beads and crystals].”
“My line has bold, beautiful designs that allow women to show their sense of strength, integrity and style,” says Smith. “I think women are powerful and my goal is for them to feel good and look good whenever they wear my pieces”
Her range, which she introduced in 2011, features plenty of spiritual messaging (Instagram junkies will remember seeing Smith’s “Blessed” necklace on Kendall Jenner in this Thanksgiving snap). Consisting of chunky, effervescent pieces and oversized hoop earrings, products are sold at Macy’s, Kohl's, and SimoneISmith.com.
“I grew up in the Eighties and always loved the door knockers, huge hoops,” said Smith, who donates part of her proceeds to The American Cancer Society. “I always loved the bling, I was always very fashionable.”
Smith’s signature A Sweet Touch of Hope necklaces, which feature sparkling lollipops, were inspired by her own lollipop tattoo, which she says was disfigured by her illness.
“During my surgery it looked like someone took a bite out of it, so when i started to create my line, I made a pendant that’s become iconic to me,” she says. “The candy reminds you how sweet life is, the bite shows what cancer does to a person, their family and their friends, and the logo in the center represents my strength and journey to becoming well.”
In addition to her debut namesake collection, Smith introduced two sub-lines in 2013; SIS by Simone I. Smith, available at Macy's, and Amore by Simone I. Smith, available at Kohl's. Each is meant to reach women at multiple price-points.
“I definitely want to expand the brand,” says Smith. “My goal is to take it all over the world.”
According to Smith, her husband has been extremely supportive of her newfound business journey.
“[LL] gives me a lot of feedback on my designs.” says Smith. “He named Infinite Love, it’s another signature piece. I do trunk shows and he comes out and supports me as much as his schedule allows. He and my kids are my number one fans.”
Smith who is 12 years cancer-free, counts her battle with the disease as part of the reason she found her entrepreneurial spirit.
“My journey to becoming cancer-free is what really influenced me to be an entrepreneur, and put my best foot forward to create something to believe in,” she says. “At the time I couldn’t find really affordable, yet well made hoop earrings, and something ignited in me. I wanted my children to see me become an entrepreneur and make my dreams come to life.”
Smith, who said she caught the entrepreneurship bug and will continue introducing new items and expanding the business, has been featured on QVC and has drawn a celebrity clientele including Rihanna, Rachael Ray, and Missy Elliott, who wore a pair of her signature hoops during a halftime performance at Super Bowl.
“Taking care of my family is number one. It’s still number one even though I am a female entrepreneur.”
“I had my days where I was home, I raised my kids, but I also have dreams and aspirations and my husband has supported me to reach them,” says Smith.
“I’m setting an example for my daughters and for my son, for young girls and women who look up to me and admire me and who have gone through cancer. Cancer can make a lot of people go through depression. They wonder why it’s happening to them. My cancer experience motivated me to say you know what, I can stay at home, but I’m also going to follow my dreams and create a fabulous business.”
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"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.