As dean of fashion at Parsons School of Design, Burak Cakmak has made it his mission to educate the next generation of fashion creatives about the importance of environmental and social responsibility, placing an emphasis not only on sustainability but political and social issues including feminism and inclusivity.
Burak Cakmak’s 15-year-strong background in sustainability informed his initiative to make the topic a key focus at the prestigious institution. He also created scholarships at Parsons and Central Saint Martins in London and spearheaded the Swarovski Waterschool Initiative’s education program.
“It’s a new set of rules that the industry operates in, so it’s important for design students to understand the challenges they will face as they grow,” he told BoF. “It’s about your overall influence on society and how we can work together to address some of the ongoing challenges today.”
Cakmak's career in the fashion industry began in 2000, serving as Gap Inc.’s senior manager of social responsibility. After eight years, he relocated to London and was hired by Kering to lead sustainability strategies for the luxury group’s brands — including Gucci, Stella McCartney and Bottega Veneta — as its first director of corporate sustainability.
In 2012 he was tapped by the Swarovski Group as the company’s first vice president of corporate responsibility, charged with implementing best practice industry standards across the business.
“There’s a recognised need for sustainability, especially if you’re a large business,” Cakmak told BoF. “There’s an expectation for all businesses to own up to their responsibilities and they have to go beyond that. What has been positively surprising to me is how much Parsons cares about the topic of sustainability. They try to implement this across the board and in every part of their education.”
His appointment to Parsons in August 2016 was his first full-time foray into academia; prior to joining, he served as visiting professor at SKEMA Business School in France and China. In his role, Cakmak oversees the BFA in Fashion Design, AAS degree programmes in Fashion Design and Fashion Marketing, and the MFA in Fashion Design and Society.