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A Walk in Her Shoes

From West Chester to NYC: Meet Katie Hellkamp, Shoe Designer for Ralph Lauren

At many places Katie Hellkamp visits in New York City, she can easily spot her work on shiny poster advertisements plastered across shopping mall walls or propped up in display stands in department stores. However, for Katie, senior director of footwear for the Lauren brand by Ralph Lauren, the best place to see her designer footwear is on real people. 

“I always love seeing my products on people, like in the subway or walking around New York City,” Katie says. “I love seeing people in real life—not just in the advertisement—because the shoes look beautiful in real life.” 

Now in her sixteenth year at Ralph Lauren, a luxury apparel, footwear and accessory corporation, Katie has been behind the scenes of some of the company’s most notable shoe collections in the last two decades. Shoppers can easily see her work in Macy’s, the largest distributor of the Lauren brand.

Katie says she and her team are always working to find new ways to “elevate the product.” Whether that means adding high quality leather linings to existing products or launching completely new footwear lines, Katie says Ralph Lauren focuses on creating quality, lasting shoes that everyone can enjoy. 

“How do we take a trend and put it through the Ralph Lauren brand codes?” Katie says. “We’re not a fast fashion company. We’ve been around forever. We’re classic. We’re timeless.” 

Katie’s venture into the fashion industry began in her hometown of West Chester, where she moved at eight years old. A graduate of Lakota West High School, Katie says she took every available art class at her disposal from drawing and painting to jewelry and pottery. 

“I always wanted to be involved in some type of art,” Katie says. “I did it because I loved anything in the arts.” 

After graduating from Lakota West High School in 2003, her artistic passions landed her at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), where she planned to study animation in hopes of working on films for Disney. It wasn’t until her sister encouraged her to enroll in a fashion course that she discovered her talents in accessory design.

“I just caught the fashion bug and started pursuing it,” Katie says.

During the summer between her junior and senior years of college, Katie took her next step towards her future career: landing an internship. After applying to jobs online, Katie was shocked to receive a phone call from Ralph Lauren inviting her to an interview in New York City. 

While Katie had originally applied for the brand’s apparel design internship, her portfolio reflected her true passions in handbag and shoe design—something leadership at Ralph Lauren were excited to see. Just a few hours after the interview while riding home in a cab, Katie got the call offering her an internship with the Ralph Lauren women’s accessory team. 

When she returned to SCAD for senior year, Katie set her sights on a new goal: getting her work in the end-of-year fashion show. Seeing their work on the fashion show runway was a dream and an honor for SCAD students. Katie says she was shocked and devastated when her work did not make the show. 

“I remember crying and talking to my dad and my dad said ‘Katie, this isn’t the end goal,’” Katie says. “‘Ten years from now, five years from now, nobody’s going to wonder whether you got into this fashion show. The goal is not this fashion show, it’s to get a job.’”

Katie took her father’s advice in stride. After graduating from SCAD in 2007, she reached out to her former boss, Vice President of Design for Footwear and Accessories at Ralph Lauren Nancy Boas, to inquire about job openings. Boas offered her a full-time freelance position at the company and just two weeks after graduating, Katie found herself living in NYC. 

During the next 16 years, Katie climbed through the ranks at Ralph Lauren, working all the way from an intern to senior director of footwear. For others interested in exploring a career in fashion design, Katie offers a piece of advice from her time at Ralph Lauren. 

“When you go to school, pursue it and try everything,” she says. 

Now mom to three, Katie’s life strikes a balance—she enjoys her family and her career. 

“What I’d love to say to the moms and future moms out there is that you don’t have to sacrifice your career in order to have a family. You can do what you love and be a mom. You can have both and thrive in both roles—you don’t have to compromise.” 

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