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What Skills are needed to attend Design School? Advice from Burak Cakmak, Dean of Parsons

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

Burak Cakmak was appointed the Dean of the School of Fashion at the Parsons School of Design in 2016. His prior experiences in the world of academia include teaching at the SKEMA Business School in France and China, helping establish the education program at the Swarovski Waterschool Initiative, and creating scholarships at Parsons and Central Saint Martins. However, before stepping into his position as Dean, Burak’s career was mainly in leading social responsibility and sustainability strategies for industry giants including Gap, Gucci, Stella McCartney, and the Swarovski Group.

The Parsons School of Design, The New School

I had the pleasure of chatting with Burak about the Fashion Design programs offered at Parsons, what makes them unique, and what the admissions team looks for in an application.

The Parsons School of Design offers a variety of academic programs in Fashion Design at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as continuing education and pre-college nondegree programs. I asked Burak if most applicants are coming directly from high school, and he replied “There is every walk of life. We are seeing even lawyers and doctors coming in for two-year degrees.”

Burak also wanted me to know that fashion students at Parsons are in a unique position, in that they have access to many other academic programs in many other fields of study. “It is one of the few schools that allows you to do a duel-degree, so some of our most successful students end up doing Psychology and Fashion, Politics and Fashion – that brings a very different perspective on the world, as well as what it means to be a designer.”

Yet another element that makes the Fashion Design programs at Parsons unique is Burak’s insight into the sustainability issues currently facing the fashion industry. He explained, “With my background, I try to push what sustainability means within the curriculum in a new way.” He went on to say, of fashion designers graduating from Parsons, “they shouldn’t be thinking about just fitting into the existing structure, but question it, and try to build new models that’s going to address this from the bottom up.” Burak claimed that those new designers need to ask themselves the following questions:

“What are you creating, who are you creating it for, and do you need to create it at all?”

When applying for competitive higher education programs, many students feel pressure to complete internship experiences beforehand. However, Burak thinks applicants should prioritize showing their creativity through their portfolios and the Parsons Challenge above racking up internships. Instead, students will complete internships while at Parsons – which Burak says puts them ahead of European students, who traditionally intern only after they’ve graduated.

Internship experiences that students gain during their studies expose them to the business side of the fashion industry, and can provide them with a network of industry professionals. Burak told me, “I have bachelor program graduates that sometimes do up to seven internships in four years – which is very ambitious, but it makes a huge difference in understanding different players, and also what kind of a role they want play in different businesses.”

If you’re preparing to apply to a Fashion Design program at Parsons, and you do have the opportunity to gain internship experience in the fashion industry, by all means go for it! However, if you don’t have the time or ability, don’t fret. According to Burak, “It’s more than anything what you put in your portfolio that’s going to matter – but having extra knowledge is never going to hurt you.”

Barak Cakmak at The Fashion Tech Forum, NYC

I wanted to dig a little deeper on the topic of portfolios, and asked Burak what having a “well-rounded portfolio” meant to him. He explained, “It’s not about how well you sketch, and it’s not about how well you sew. It’s more about your critical thinking that we’re looking at. More than any time in the past, we are looking at critical thinkers to come into the role of fashion designer, because the fashion industry is changing so much. When you graduate, you need to be able to look at how to evolve the industry beyond the ability of constructing a garment.”

Another element of creating a portfolio, as a designer, is the ability to speak about your own work. I realize that often times, it may be difficult for students to find the words to communicate about their pieces, process, and inspiration. Burak’s words of advice were, “Ultimately, it comes down to authenticity,” and, “there’s no one way of telling your story, it’s just being true is what matters.”

Finally, I asked Burak a question that will confront all future Fashion Design students at Parsons: What to wear to your interview? His answer was, “Especially in a creative setting, I think you want to make sure that you shine, versus you shy away from showing your personality.”

Essentially, what you wear to your interview is a great opportunity to say more about yourself, and your creative voice, without words. Burak added, “That voice is so critical, that uniqueness matters in fashion more than anything else. It’s good to be able to take that out in the most innovative way as possible, rather than trying to fit in. Just have fun with it!”

Thank you Burak for sharing your time and words of advice!

You can learn more about the Fashion Design programs offered at Parsons via this link.


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Hey there, lovely fashion friends! My name is Britta Cabanos, and I'm thrilled to have you here! 


I'm a 25+ year fashion industry design professional, and I'm passionate about supporting conscious designers, ethical makers, and sustainability. I believe that fashion can be a powerful force for good, and I'm committed to helping aspiring fashion industry pros make their mark in this exciting and ever-changing field. 


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