Simone Smith, the "Original Around the Way Girl," has now evolved from being the muse for her husband LL COOL J's famous line—"I need a girl with extensions in her hair, bamboo earrings at least two pair"—to owning one of the hottest jewelry and accessory brands around. Simone I. Smith Jewelry's various hoop earring designs have been worn by everyone from Missy Elliott and Queen Latifah to Tabitha Brown and one of her dearest friends Mary J. Blige, with whom she co-created her Sister Love jewelry line.

"I started working on the brand in 2009 and officially launched on Valentine's Day 2011," Smith says. "I want people to know that it definitely did not happen overnight. During that time, there was a void in the market for quality big hoops, and I wanted to be the person to fulfill that and bless women with great earrings of all sizes."

In 2004, Smith was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma—a type of bone cancer—in her right tibia. After the opportunity came to design jewelry, she launched the brand with her signature "A Sweet Touch of Hope" lollipop necklaces as a reminder of how sweet life is but also the realities of what cancer can do to a person and their family.

Image: courtesy of Simone I. Smith

"During my surgery, they had to remove my left fibula to replace my right tibia. I had a lollipop tattoo on my left leg, and the doctors had to do a skin graft. When I woke up, part of the tattoo from my left leg was on my right leg, and it looked like someone had taken a bite out of the lollipop," explained Smith. "So the lollipop necklaces represent who am I from being diagnosed with cancer to my journey of becoming cancer free, and getting well and staying well."

Fast-forward more than 10-years later, and Simone I. Smith jewelry is still setting trends within the industry. The brand has now grown well beyond just the signature hoops and lollipop necklaces to also offering a line of colorful "Moody Monday" fedora hats and fashion-forward luxury nail lacquers called S.I.S.

"I love a good fedora, especially on a bad hair day, and I love getting my nails done," she shares. "During quarantine when we were all sitting in the house, and I couldn't go out, I told my team that I wanted to design my own nail polish. Typically, when we go to the nail salon we can get our crystals and rhinestone, so I created a vegan luxury nail lacquer that has different effects from chrome and glitter to a color shift. I call it a salon experience in a bottle."

Simone Smith wearing her Moody Monday hat. Image: courtesy of Simone I. Smith.

As a business owner who has found the secret to longevity in the game, we asked Smith what her keys to success were beyond just offering quality products.

Put God first

Smith has always publically and proudly shared her faith with her audiences, well before the business launched. She often posts clips from her pastor's sermons on Sundays in hopes that others will be moved by the messages as well. "I wake up daily asking God for his wisdom and discernment," shares Smith. "There is no reason for me not to be humble. I am grateful, I am thankful, and I don't take any of it for granted. God is the greatest and for me, if it's not according to his will, then it won't be as successful as it's supposed to be. It may be good, but it won't be great—and it won't last."

Be authentically you

Staying true to who she is as a person and remaining passionate about what it is that she does has been one of the biggest factors in her success over the years. "Authenticity and being true to yourself as a designer and business person is important," she explains. "If you are true to yourself, then whatever you are working on, it's going to be authentically you."

Surround yourself with a great team

If the people around you aren't just as passionate or motivated about your vision, it could actually hold you back. She suggests surrounding yourself with great people because your team is ultimately a reflection of you. "You need good attorneys, good mentors and people you can pick up the phone to call and get business advice from," advises the Smith. "Ultimately, you have to surround yourself with people who are just as passionate about your dreams and what you are doing, as you are. That's so important."