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The Brief
Published: 14 Nov 2018

Salvaged Materials Lend Narratives to New Products


Creative conglomerates and terrazzo-inspired materials are providing a tangible medium for storytelling. Found items, debris and waste materials are being reappropriated – suspended and embedded in resin or cement – to create materials and products with interesting visual narratives. Here are three inspiring projects.

  • London-based eyewear brand Cubitts has crafted a pair of glasses made from historic detritus found at the bottom of the River Thames. The salvaged items – which include World War II bullets, a Victorian marble, Tudor hairpins and a boar’s tusk – are embedded in acetate to create the detailed frames, encapsulating the city’s rich history over the centuries.

    The project forms part of an exhibition hosted by the brand called Retrospective: London, Spectacles, and Half a Millennia, which explores the history of optics in London. It runs for three months from November 15 at St James's Market Pavilion.
  • Dutch artist Paul Koenen uses rubble from the demolition sites of buildings and bridges to create new materials for public benches. The ongoing project, entitled Minestone, aims to preserve otherwise lost heritage in cities by capturing memories in material. Crushed building rubble is compressed into conglomerate slab materials that feature varied mixtures of aggregates. See Human Made: Materials for more on man-made and industrial debris conglomerates. 
  • British designer Toni Packham addresses the growing environmental problem of plastic waste with explorations into the potential uses of plastiglomerate – a stone-like material formed when sand, wood and shells meld with molten ocean plastic. Through a process of slow melting and pressing waste materials found on beaches, such as plastic fishing nets and driftwood, the designer creates vibrant sheet materials that are then used for home and kitchenware products.

Our A/W 20/21 Colour & Materials direction Solace explores the idea of storytelling through surfaces. See also Recycled Aggregates in LDF 2018, and Experimental Aggregates in Surface Design Show 2018.

Toni Packham
Paul Koenen
Published: 14 Nov 2018

Surge in Sex Ed Platforms Offers Role for Brand Advisors

The Sex Ed

A number of sex education platforms have recently emerged to fill a knowledge gap left by taboos and underperforming youth education. We believe there's an opportunity for brands to act as trusted advisors in this space.

US film-maker Liz Goldwyn just launched The Sex Ed, a platform to discuss sexual health, including sensitive issues like period sex and erectile dysfunction. The launch includes the Sex Ed Podcast, which aims to offer "a range of voices sharing their experiences with sex, health and consciousness", according to Goldwyn's Instagram.

In May, digital art lab Motherlode released Pillow Talk, a virtual reality series that immerses users in the full spectrum of sexual exploration. The first episodes, entitled Lube River, "educate users on the world of pleasure and sex toys through a playful, game-like environment", according to Motherlode. Meanwhile, in February 2017, Pornhub launched its own Sexual Wellness Center (suitable for work).

These platforms are arriving at a time when sex education in schools is in crisis: in the US, only 55% of boys and 60% of girls aged 15-19 have received formal instruction about methods of birth control (Gutmacher Institute, 2018). There is an urgent need for serious and safe conversations about sex among Gen Z particularly. Netflix picked up on this education gap with its brash cartoon comedy and sex-ed show Big Mouth, which stars a number of big US comedians and released its second season in October 2018.

As we saw in 2017 with Axe's 'Is it okay for guys...' campaign and Bodyform's award-winning campaign Blood Normal, this is an area where brands can play an active role. While businesses like British condoms brand Durex can obviously pursue this strategy – seen again in its current partnership with US non-profit RED to raise awareness about Aids among Gen Z – we see this as an opportunity for brands in every industry. For more, see Tackling Taboos and New Attitudes to Love & Sex.

Published: 14 Nov 2018

Clas Ohlson’s New Store Tech Picks Up the Interactive Pace

Ramping up its omni-channel capacity, Swedish hardware/homeware retailer Clas Ohlson is gunning for shoppers' attention with a new motion-sensor-activated digital window. Dubbed Customer Remote, the 24/7 display was designed with Microsoft and Swedish user experience agency Ombori.

A screen positioned just behind the glass displays static images and videos; it only becomes interactive when someone stands directly in front of it. Scanning a QR code with a phone gives people control of the screen; flicking the phone left and right (a common gesture in mobile-centric life) allows them to browse the brand's e-catalogue. Notably, only one person can do this at a time.

Purchases can be made on the spot using the phone, just like buying from an e-commerce site, or wish-listed for later. As a further incentive, they can also download exclusive deals for online or in-store use.

In-store, the same tech allows visitors to interact with content on a welcome screen. Users scan a QR code and flick their phones to see info on in-store services, such as tool rental. Attached to another screen is a barcode scanner, allowing people to unlock online reviews and extra product info.

At any time, they can scan the on-screen QR code with their phones to transfer browsing back to their own devices and continue research out-of-store. Adding to the flexible ambience, large-scale wall screens can also be commandeered by staff to demonstrate specific product features via videos.

"We help retailers start online relationships with people they meet in the physical space," says Andreas Hassellöf, chief executive of Ombori. "We believe these kinds of initiatives will soon be a requirement if you wish to stay relevant." For more on such tactics, see Retail Wearables: Engagement Innovations and Tech Flex: Retail's Omni-Era Workforce.

See also Beta Blends and Omni-Interactive.

Published: 13 Nov 2018

Whole-Life Beauty: Four Brands to Know from Decoded Future

Clockwise L-R: Fluide, Public Goods, Captain Blankenship, Apto

Beauty’s wellness focus is supporting customers beyond their skincare conundrums – such as by helping shoppers stock the medicine cabinet, and championing trans consumers. We highlight the US beauty brands to watch from New York’s 2018 Decoded Future Summit (November 2).

  • Inclusive Colour Cosmetics: Cosmetics brand Fluide positions itself as an ally for the LGBTQ community by highlighting trans models in its marketing campaigns.“We champion exploratory make-up and avoid the stigma that usually comes with [beauty],” said Isabella Giancarlo, co-founder and creative director. For more on Fluide, see our Brief post Men Embrace Genderless Beauty.
  • Medicine Cabinet Makeover: Start-up Public Goodsupdates bathroom essentials with a streamlined aesthetic intended to appeal to today’s self-care consumers (see 10 Wellbeing Trends to Watch). All-natural staples like soap, shampoo and toothbrushes come in low-profile black-and-white packages, designed to provide a calming home environment. “We spend a lot of time designing our homes – then fill them with garish products from the drugstore,” said founder Morgan Hirsh. 

  • Seasonal Skincare: Tapping into concepts from our report Selling Cyclical Beauty, natural skincare brand Apto schedules new product releases to align with the seasons. By acknowledging how the weather impacts skincare concerns and ingredient availability, the brand builds ‘act now’ desirability into its limited-edition capsule collections. Founder Marta Cros suggested that this seasonal strategy also educates consumers about the perishable ingredients that differentiate natural skincare.

  • Money-Minded Multitaskers: Looking to overcome clean beauty’s expensive reputation, skincare company Captain Blankenship launched a lower-priced capsule collection for American retailer Target in early 2018. To ensure shoppers could afford an entirely clean skincare routine, the brand developed five double-duty products, such as a dry shampoo that also functions as a salt styling spray. “You should be able to read the ingredient list as if it was a loaf of bread,” commented founder Jana Blankenship.

For more insights from Decoded Future, see our report on the 2018 NYC Summit.

Published: 13 Nov 2018

NHS to Fund Alternative Therapies to Combat Loneliness


The NHS has been given permission by the UK government to prescribe social activities such as dancing, walks in nature and music events. By 2023, all British GPs will be able to refer patients suffering from loneliness to community activities in the hope that it will encourage social interaction (GOV, 2018).

Since June, the government has pledged almost £22m ($28.6m) to develop community spaces and support local charities in facilitating 'social prescribing' (GOV, 2018). The government's strategy recognises the therapeutic power of community and sensory experiences, and hopes to utilise these to help reduce the NHS' reliance on medication for social illnesses. Walking, dancing and classes are some of the social activities that will be prescribed, chosen for their beneficial effects on the body and mind.

Additionally, new health secretary Matt Hancock has advocated for music to be prescribed, in the form of playlists and trips to live music events, to supplement the medical treatment of conditions such as dementia. Stylus reported on music as an alternative dementia therapy in a recent post on The Brief.

Last month, the UK government published its first loneliness strategy, following the appointment of an inaugural minister for loneliness in January this year. A recent study by the Office of National Statistics revealed that 5% of adults in England feel lonely "often" or "always" (ONS, 2018). The same research showed that those who suffer from poor health were almost five times more likely to suffer from loneliness.

The UK government's new strategy opens up opportunities for both business and patients to explore holistic wellness by tapping into the senses. See our Spotlight Trend The Sensory Opportunity to explore alternative sensory therapies.

Published: 12 Nov 2018

Are Party Islands a Thing of The Past?

Boracay Island

The all-day booze-cruises, foam parties and cheap drinks that once attracted young people to the party island capitals of the world are no longer a draw for youthful consumers, who are seeking a more fulfilling and Instagram-worthy travel experience.

On the Philippines' party island Boracay, unchecked tourism and all-day parties had previously left it overcrowded, with sewage pouring into the sea and damaging coral and marine life.

Having closed its doors to tourists in April 2018, the island has now reopened with a cleaned-up image. Restrictions now apply to water sports and beach vendors, while tourist numbers are controlled, and a new ban prevents drinking and bonfires on the beach. The island has also seen the closure of all of its casinos and many hotels.

Likewise, this year, UK package holiday provider Club 18-30 closed down, having served popular European party island destinations such as Magaluf in Mallorca, Laganas in Zante and San Antonio in Ibiza. Parent company Thomas Cook said that the move signalled the end of a tradition of excess.

Alfonso Rodriguez, mayor of Calvia, the municipality that includes Magaluf, said: "We're seeing real change already. We want to move away from the excess of the past and diversify our business model. It can't just be about getting drunk and partying."

Similarly, in June 2018, the Thai government indefinitely closed the famed Kho Phi Phi Leh beach, globally known as the setting for 2000 film The Beach. The beach received up to 5,000 visitors per day and the resulting litter, sunscreen and boat pollution has resulted in the destruction of 80% of local coral, as well as habitats on the island itself.

See Marketing to New Travel Tribes and Hospitality's Tribal Focus for more on how to attract this new youthful breed of traveller.

Published: 12 Nov 2018

Top Three New Space-Saving Furniture Designs

Juul de Bruijn

Designers are continuing to invent new ways of hacking furniture and spatial configurations to maximise urban living environments. Building on our report Smarter Spaces: Optimising the Home, we reveal three new designs that uncover storage opportunities hidden in, above and below the domestic space.

Dutch Designer Juul de Bruijn prompts consumers to consider the floor area as an overlooked storage space. Her design MoreFloor is a series of shallow timber modules that conceal a bed and stow away compartments. Each piece has a fitted top that pulls open and lays flat, acting as an elevated surface area.

Taking inspiration from the Droogspin or ‘Drying Spider’ – a contraption historically used for drying wet clothes – Dutch designer Jelle Heuver created a ceiling-mounted laundry rack. It features a hanging concrete pendant pieced with timber poles, which have either a light at the end, or notches for hangers. The creation allows clothing to be stored off the ground, as well as offering more efficient drying – as hot air rises – and the functionality of an interior light source. 

Also from the Netherlands, Frea Zwaag has investigated how furniture pieces can be combined into a whole to maximise usable space. Her two-seater’s armrests are in fact the backrests of two separate chairs, which are tucked underneath the sofa and can slide out to double the amount of seating. The cushioning on the sofa can also be removed for use elsewhere.

With increasing urban congestion, brands need to consider how furniture can be adapted to fulfil multiple roles and support different activities throughout the day.

It’s a trend we’re also seeing outside of furniture, with hospitality spaces that change function according to time of day to utilise otherwise vacant architecture. See Role-Play Restaurants in Tomorrow’s Wandering Workers for more.

L-R: Jelle Heuver, Frea Zwaag
Published: 12 Nov 2018

Industry City: New York’s Next Big Retail Destination


Located on Brooklyn’s waterfront, just two subway stops from Manhattan, Industry City is emerging as New York’s most significant new retail, design and hospitality destination. The 35-acre former shipping and manufacturing complex is comprised of 16 buildings involved in a phased 12-year redevelopment, supported by $1bn of investment.

Cementing it as a new interior design hub, recently opened anchor tenants include premium US décor brands ABC Home & Carpet, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Design Within Reach and Restoration Hardware’s outlet store. Merging retail and production (see also Exploiting Insider Access), local wallpaper manufacturer Flavour Paper will also have a factory space and store on-site. Meanwhile, WantedDesign – a US trade event that showcases independent international design brands during the annual NYCxDesign festival – has opened the IC Store by WantedDesign. 

Existing fashion brands include designer vintage boutique A Current Affair and milliner Teressa Foglia – precursors to the city mayor’s Made In NY initiative, which is due to launch a 200,000 sq ft garment manufacturing hub in 2020, able to support up to 35 brands.

Industry City is also establishing itself as a foodie destination, thanks to a 40,000 sq ft Food Hall, New York’s first sake brewery and tap room Brooklyn Kura, and a 20,000 sq ft Japanese market and food hall, slated to launch early 2019.

Coffee and tea businesses are also booming. High-tech Extraction Lab cafe invites guests onto its brewing ‘stage’ to experience America’s most expensive cup of coffee ($18), amongst other blends; while Australian brand Gumption will open a 6,000 sq ft space – its first in the US – in early 2019. 

Affirming the destination’s premise as an all-round leisure/cultural destination, public outdoor spaces include the family entertainment-centric Summer Stage, while immersive Japanese digital arts group TeamLab will open a 55,000 sq ft exhibition space next year.

Published: 9 Nov 2018

Kitchen Toolkit Makes Cooking Accessible for The Blind

The kitchen can be a daunting place for blind people, due to a reduced ability to map out the environment. To open up this space to these consumers, Singaporean product designer Kevin Chiam has designed a kitchenware toolkit to help those with visual impairments navigate cooking with confidence.

The five-piece Folks toolkit includes a retractable knife guard that acts as a barrier to protect fingers when cutting and preparing food. There's also a tray that clips onto the side of the chopping board to assist with transferring food from board to bowl, and a stove ring that sits above the burner – helping users to recognise the boundaries of the hob ring, and prevent topples and spills.

The kit also contains a pot lid that acts as an extra vessel for utensils and ingredients, and a teaspoon with an integrated float that lets the user know when liquid is nearing the top of the glass/bowl.

"For the blind, preparing food naturally becomes challenging as they learn to cope with the uncertainties of spills or injuries like knife cuts or burns," said Chiam. "The objective is thus to imbue individuals with confidence, so that they can overcome physical and mental barriers to appreciate and attempt cooking."

For more cleverly built kitchen kits for specific consumer groups, see New Architecture of Taste and Kitchenware for Kids. See also Access for All for an in-depth dive into how brands are accommodating people with disabilities.

Published: 9 Nov 2018

Shoe Shopping? There’s an Uber for That


The ride-hailing app has teamed up with British footwear designer Charlotte Olympia on Uber Shoes – a fashion-led accompaniment to the cab service that could mean designer shoes need never walk again.

Each pair of the £695 ($911) shoes – available exclusively at Harvey Nichols’ London flagship – includes £500 ($655) of Uber credit, redeemable against all Uber services.

The shoe features an ultra-high, ultra-glittery platform – making this a party-perfect collab. “My brand motto is ‘The higher the heel, the better you feel’,” said Olympia. “And now you can guarantee that you and your dancing shoes will be looked after when going from party to party this holiday season with the touch of an app.”

Despite its gimmicky appearance, Uber’s first foray into fashion is a promotionally smart move, and taps into the wider trend for unexpected partnerships and cross-industry collaboration. In October 2018, Adidas teamed up with Transport for London – creating a pair of trainers complete with a complimentary £80 ($105) worth of Oyster credit.

Other collabs have highlighted fashion’s open-source outlook, with this summer’s most-hyped partnerships – including Advisory Board Crystals x Wikipedia and Nike x Anna Wintour – proving consumers are increasingly attracted by non-expert offerings.

For further insights into outsider brand power, see our Look Ahead 2019: Fashion report. For more on open-source product strategies, see Sneakerheads Unboxed: Cracking the Product Code.

Published: 9 Nov 2018

Selfridges Commits to Skate Culture with In-Store Bowl

Selfridges The Bowl

British department store Selfridges’ new designer streetwear department includes a purpose-built skateboarding bowl – a long-term proposition devised to push its focus on street and skate culture beyond retail-industry bandwagoning.

The luxury sector’s love-in with streetwear is no secret; high-end streetwear drove a 5% increase in global sales of luxury goods last year (ET Brand Equity, 2017), while offering a critical lifeline to the younger consumers it craves. Selfridges’ concept – a tight yet full-scale wooden bowl in the corner of the new room – marks an interesting iteration of the trend, anchored in attracting and supporting grass-roots fans as a route to credibility. 

Open to the public, it’s currently hosting skate sessions bookable via Selfridges’ e-commerce site, and is attracting numerous seasoned pros – partly due to its rarity as an indoor space. This strategic lure, based on social advocacy, echoes the temporary transformation of its Ultralounge events area into a live music venue in 2017, in response to London’s dwindling number of live-gig spaces. However, the bowl is set to run indefinitely.

There will also be walk-in taster sessions and events orchestrated by a team of skate community insiders, including London-based New Zealand skater Bryce Campbell – formerly owner of Parlour Skate Store. He suggests the concept’s integrity comes from its mission “to help grow scenes that don’t yet have a major platform, like girls’ skating”. He also moots “niche stuff, introducing people on the peripheries who will widen the appeal”, plus brand-led concepts.

Brands range from Brixton’s Baddest Skateshop – a benchmark label for the London scene – to fashion-focused heavyweights including Virgil Abloh’s Off-White as well as Stüssy, Obey, Transfer and Blondey. The bowl was created by London-based Brinkworth Design and British ramp builders FourOneFour.

See also Harnessing the Hype (part of Sneakerheads Unboxed) and Counter Commerce in our just published Look Ahead 2019: Retail.

Published: 9 Nov 2018

Creative Disruption at Dutch Design Week 2018

Baars & Bloemhoff

At Dutch Design Week this year (October 20-28), material suppliers and manufacturers gave designers free reign over their processes and products, leading to new and unexpected applications and markets. We select three initiatives that caught our eye.

  • Surface board manufacturer Baars & Bloemhoff showed materials from its decorative and construction panel product range in four immersive spaces, curated by designers Floor Knaapen and Grietje Schepers. Specially commissioned flat-pack furniture from five designers (Lex Pott, Tijs Gilde, Jasmijn Muskens, Daphna Laurens and Johan Moorman) was also displayed throughout the show.

    The commissions have allowed Baars & Bloemhoff to expand its offer into furniture, which will be made available to buy via the Transitions website in late 2019.
  • Design studio Rens was invited by furniture brand Pode to creatively investigate its industrial spray and powder-coating processes. By adjusting the settings and viscosity of paint used on wood, textiles, glass and metal, Rens produced a spectrum of effects. Nuanced tints and splattered colour were applied to round and oval panels, which were then assembled into layered vignettes. An offbeat palette of primary red and blue, paired with lavender and rust, drew the experiments together.

  • Technical textile manufacturer Low and Bonar teamed up with multidisciplinary design team In4Nite to facilitate the creative exploration of Colback – a flashspun textile typically used in car interiors. Designer Mieke Lucia demonstrated the material’s strength by using it as the substrate for a tufting gun used to make rugs. Meanwhile, designer Joris de Groot transformed the material into footwear by adapting techniques used by automakers.

For more inspiring examples on this theme, see Future Manufacture in our Dutch Design Week: Trends report and our 2019 Materials Focus direction Human Made. Check out our full coverage of the event here.

Joris de Groot
Mieke Lucia
TOPICS: Art & Design
Published: 8 Nov 2018

Cryptocurrencies Enter the Beauty Market

Opu Labs

Beauty tech companies are starting to bring blockchain-driven benefits to consumers – exchanging virtual currencies for a range of services and products.

US skincare start-up Opu Labs is a facial technology platform powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Its aim is to connect beauty consumers with dermatologists across the country, and provide brands with feedback on products.

The app bridges skincare, AI and blockchain in one ecosystem by rewarding users with its own cryptocurrency, called OpuCoin. It asks them to submit a selfie, which is analysed by skincare experts for imperfections such as wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. In exchange for uploading an image or linking up their account to social media, users are rewarded with OpuCoin that can be used to buy more advice.

In addition, partner companies will also gain valuable information from the app by having access to Opu Labs’ client data for research purposes. It provides an opportunity for brands to test new product ranges on different consumer groups, and determine key issues throughout the development process.

Opu Labs provides easy access to solutions-driven expertise, allowing individuals to discuss their skincare concerns with an expert at a lower price point. This strategy also motivates users to collect the brand’s own virtual currency – acting as a new type of reward scheme.

The app jumps on the growing global interest in cryptocurrencies – the market is currently valued at $20tn (CNN, 2018). In an interview with fashion and beauty business site Glossy, Richard Reed, chief operating officer of Opu Labs, said: “I think in a not-too-distant future, everyone will have the equivalent of a PayPal account with different cryptocurrencies – you will have all these different loyalty programmes and points from different brands.”

Stylus’ senior Beauty editor Lisa Payne thinks this venture showcases a really interesting value exchange proposition that more beauty start-ups should consider in the future. “As consumers become more knowledgeable of and comfortable with data share, beauty brands are given the opportunity to explore more innovative digital exchanges,” she explained.

For more on new blockchain applications and the broader appeal of cryptocurrencies, see Remixed Realities: The Next Web 2018 and Blockchain Expo London 2018.

Published: 8 Nov 2018

Best Office Innovations from Dutch Design Week 2018

Geoffrey Pascal

At this year’s Dutch Design Week (October 20-28), designers considered how furniture can support users’ bodies and mental states to improve the experience of being within an office environment. We unpack our favourite examples.

Dutch designer Angela Willemsen explored how the shape of a room can affect one’s experience of space. Her curved room dividers, made from metal grids, sit in the corner of a room and soften the impression of space, evoking a sense of comfort and security.

Eindhoven-based Studio Joachim-Morineau created Séole, a heating and ventilation system featuring two large round discs perched on long poles that protrude from a weighted base. One disc radiates heat, while the other rotates to create a wind stream for cooling. The design creates a micro climate, letting users adjust heating and cooling effects to suit their individual preferences.

French designer Geoffrey Pascal created an ergonomic modular seating collection that enables users to work comfortably without a desk. The upholstered seating positions the body in poses that mimic those adopted when working from bed, with work placed on a cushion or their lap. Pascal used Nasa’s neutral body posture – identified as the ideal position for rest and concentration – as a guide to ensure that each seat evenly distributes muscle weight.

For more on how design is adapting to changing attitudes in professional environments, see Blueprint for a Better Workplace. See also our full coverage from this year’s Dutch Design Week.

L-R: Studio Joachim-Morineau, Angela Willemsen
Published: 7 Nov 2018

Voting Promos: Retailers Wade into the US Elections

A host of US retailers seized on America’s mid-term elections as an opportunity to declare a distinctly activist-shaped interest in cultural debate.

Building on the strategic mindset discussed in Brands Take a Stand and Retail’s Activist Brands, which both explain how consumers now actively expect brands to take an ethical stance, a number of approaches were taken:

  • Brand Shutdowns: Acknowledging the need to reflect consumer-facing behaviours in internal brand culture, several retailers staged temporary shutdowns to encourage both shoppers and staff to get out and vote. Some clothing brands kept it non-partisan (ModCloth, The North Face), while others, such as Democrat-backing outdoor label Patagonia, wore their allegiances on their sleeves via website declarations.

    Notably, shutdowns aren’t new – see Renegade Retail for more, including previous backlashes to consumerism fest Black Friday.
  • Slogan Tees Back Pro-Voting Organisations: Several luxury fashion brands including Tory Burch, Prabal Gurung and Carbon38 (activewear) created limited-edition, pro-voting slogan T-shirts. Sales proceeds were donated to institutions such as Rock the Vote and Democracy, whose mission is to rally young and disaffected potential voters. Carbon38 noted the concept increased traffic to its site, affirming an activist stance is a win-win scenario.
  • Anti-Apathy Discounts: Fashion brand Rachel Comey also went non-partisan, creating a “voter appreciation” concept that gave consumers (online and in-store) 24-hour discounts for voting: 10% off for those with a voting confirmation sticker, 20% for those bringing a new voter to the polls, and 30% to those voting in a swing district.
  • Stores Do a Civic Duty: Levi Strauss & Co went further by collaborating with Rock the Vote to install 40 voter-registration booths in Levi’s stores, while Patagonia dedicated part of its website to providing info on candidates and polling station locations to help consumers get to grips with the voting process.

This topic will be explored further in our December 2018 Pop Culture Round-Up.