LL COOL J's Wife Turned Her Misfortune Into A Business Opportunity


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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3 Min Read

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.