Remembering Karen Welman

Posted on Jul 01, 2019

A tribute to a design icon and the ADC Jury Chair

The One Club for Creativity is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Pearlfisher Co-Founder and CCO Karen Welman, who died last Monday at the age of 59 while on holiday with family and friends in Greece. Welman served as the chair of the ADC 98th Annual Awards Packaging & Product Design jury earlier this year

After a stellar early career working in the UK and the USA alongside her husband-to-be Jonathan Ford, Karen joined forces with Jonathan and colleague Mike Branson to found Pearlfisher in 1992. Since then, Pearlfisher has grown to four offices around the world — London, New York, San Francisco and Copenhagen — and has guided the design futures of such brands as Green & Black’s, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Absolut, Innocent, Jamie Oliver and Waitrose.

Karen’s lifelong passion for innovation was globally realized when, in 2004, she developed and launched the brand 37 Degrees, a clothing line for babies that uses NASA-developed material to regulate body temperature. Her work earned her a host of awards including the Kind & Jugend Innovation Award, the Good Design Award in Japan, double gold in the Best Inventors Awards and most notably, she was named one of the Top 10 Global Female Inventors in an award ceremony in Singapore in 2006.

Last year, Karen drove an ambitious idea to highlight the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans by masterminding a stunningly unique, innovative and sustainable design solution in the form of an underwater show garden at the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The Pearlfisher Garden not only won a Gold medal but garnered the interest of brands, politicians, celebrities and global media.

Most recently, Karen co-founded The Clock, an award-winning private member’s gym, devising its new training equipment and showpiece — The Timepiece.

“Karen was an incredibly loyal friend and colleague, as well as being one of the greatest designers and creative visionaries this industry has ever known," says co-founder Mike Branson, who serves as Pearlfisher's Americas CEO. "We will all miss her in so many ways but her zest for life, drive and inimitable design influence will live on in her work and our many memories and stories of her life, passion and courage will remain an amazing legacy for us all.”

Jonathan, and the couple’s four children – Jasper, Ophelia, Chloe and Oscar – were all at Karen’s bedside in Greece, from where Jonathan paid a fitting tribute: “Karen had an amazingly beautiful island day before she passed away, looking great and watching a final beautiful sunset, after which she went to bed and a sleep she didn't wake from. She left this world in true Karen Welman style, fulfilling her often joked-about ambition to avoid reaching the age of 60. She wouldn’t have had it any other way."

"Karen was an amazing wife, mother, designer, entrepreneur, partner, boss, friend, sister and relative, as well as being a creative genius and all-around inspirational woman," Jonathan continues. "She always surprised and inspired, not only me but our global teams and clients on a daily basis with her brilliant imagination and fearless determination to make the impossible, possible. The family and I toasted her life with a glass of Prosecco looking at the Acropolis, knowing she would fully approve. Please raise a glass of bubbly to her wherever you may be today or when you read this, and only think positive things about a brilliant and inspiring woman who changed all our lives for the better."

ADC 98th Annual Awards Packaging & Product Design Jury. Karen (fourth from left) served as the Jury Chair.​


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