Toronto Fashion Week: From pixel to page – why print catalogues are the new Instagram

7 minute read

The runway is a magnet for creativity – bringing together designers, buyers and influencers to focus on the latest trends in fashion and beauty. As Toronto’s Fashion Week returns to the city to showcase some of Canada’s best talent, we take a look at how to use physical media to create highly visual, aspirational and engaging marketing to stand out in a crowded industry. Finding a new way to express brand personality, create experiences and express lifestyles helps reach more influencers and drives apparel, footwear and beauty sales – both online and in-store.

Canadians love fashion

In 2017, women’s fashion was the most shopped online product category among Canadian millennials and frequent buyers.¹ Brands are competing for the attention of these astute purchasers, both online and in-store, and are looking for new ways to differentiate themselves for a bigger slice of hearts, minds and wallets. As digital channels have matured, and users become more comfortable in them, fashion followers find it hard to connect with brands amid the overwhelming noise of competition.

Catalogue or lifestyle magazine?

Call it a look book, a style guide, a wish book, a lifestyle publication or a magalog (ouch!) the catalogue has reinvented itself, and is enjoying a resurgence. No longer your grandmother’s catalogue, millennials are taking notice. And the fashion industry is looking good in print. This is a touchpoint that shoppers can actually touch. A medium that resonates with consumers and promises to engage them more deeply.

The physicality of catalogues is the perfect platform to showcase colour and fashion. Today’s clothing catalogue is where the runway gets real and becomes universally wearable street style!

Millennial magnets

According to Data & Marketing Association (DMA) studies, the response rate for catalogues has increased in recent years in part because less mail is being sent and millennials happen to like catalogues more than other age groups do. Senior vice president of marketing and content, Neil O’Keefe, told CNBC “Millennials are very engaged by imagery, and the catalogue really allows that to stand out. So the response rate there is very different than what you would experience with a display ad, even an email.”

Putting Instagram on the page

The beauty of a catalogue or brand-forward lifestyle magazine is that you can control elements like colour, contrast and quality better than you can online. A perfect collection of insta-worthy moments captured in print that can be more vibrant and engaging than Instagram itself!

The true colours of a print catalogue are carefully designed to avoid that moment when the millennial pink you saw online turns out to be mom’s magenta, and the purchase you were so excited for becomes a return. It’s the same moment that the potential to attract loyal shoppers evaporates.

Multi-channel integration

While a digital-first approach makes total sense, marketers know too that their consumers aren’t digital-only. So they’re adding print back into the mix to heighten awareness and engagement, extend their brands and let shoppers know that there’s more than one path to purchase. As the online space gets more crowded, print catalogues exist in a dimension that is less overwhelmed with messages, and even digital pure plays are embracing the printed catalogue. As Neil O’Keefe points out to the Los Angeles Times, “The ability to stand out in that physical mailbox is easier than it was 10 years ago.”

Driving e-commerce

Catalogues are a simple and effective way to grab attention amidst the noise of social media and emails. Between 2007 and 2016, following the Great Recession, mailed catalogues decreased from 19.6 billion to 9.8 billion copies (in the U.S.), but response to catalogues between 2015 and 2016 increased by 23%, demonstrating greater engagement. And, after receiving direct mail, 14% of shoppers reached out to the e-tailer on social media.

Jeanette McMurtry is a strategic marketing consultant, CMO of e4marketing, author, speaker as well as a global expert on consumer behaviour and psychology-based marketing strategies. She talks about how companies decided to stop doing catalogues and started doing everything online, “They almost went out of business before they realized that 75% of their online customers started off with the printed piece in front of them.”

Nostalgia or novelty?

How you engage with print depends on your age. As a Gen Xer, you may remember the joy of thumbing through the Christmas catalogue as a kid. As a millennial, you came of age in a digital era, so there’s an excitement to everything analog.

Print is an essential part of an multi-channel strategy, and the experience you create – whether on your website, on social media, on display in-store or on the page – needs to be carefully curated to faithfully represent your brand so that shoppers will aspire to own a piece of it.

A sensory experience

There’s something special about the feel of printed material. David Sax is a Canadian journalist who has written for publications such as the New York Times and Vanity Fair. He’s the author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and why They Matter. In conversation with Canada Post, David had this to say, “Marketers can use analog to connect with their customers on a deeper level because analog is able, uniquely, to connect with people much more deeply than digital does. Digital is great at reaching large numbers of people very quickly, very inexpensively. But when you look at the research, it shows that people engage with it less. If you were given an email or a post on social media, you’re less likely to look at it for longer than you are a catalogue. You could spend 10 to 20 minutes, or an hour, reading a catalogue.”

Comfort shopping

Jeanette McMurtry knows how powerful a catalogue can be, “It’s tangible, it’s real, it feels like someone took the time to send me something that’s about me. And, it’s out of my routine. You can take your catalogue, sit in your bathtub with a glass of wine, or sit by a fire and engage in comfort shopping. You don’t do that on a screen. You don’t do that on the internet. You don’t do that when you’re shopping on your mobile on the subway. You’re engaging because you’re not doing a thousand other things at once.”

Who does it best?

Visual art. Aspiration. Lifestyle. Authenticity. Brand extension. Done right, a fashion catalogue elevates your brand and complements the look and feel of your other media channels. The result? Personality, engagement and consistency.

There are so many brands that do it well – both at home and away. Here are a few that have caught our attention:

Holt Renfrew

According to Elle Canada, the 180-year-old Canadian department store is making a statement. In February 2017, the retail icon launched its revamped spring magazine, a 195-page lookbook that served as a snapshot of the season, and Canada’s first glimpse of the new Holt Renfrew. With Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom venturing north of the border and Simons expanding beyond Quebec, the luxury landscape got a lot more crowded. Mario Grauso is Holts’ president. He talks about the importance of the new look for the magazine, “It’s more than just a catalogue. It informs everything else: the windows, the website, the ad campaigns.” Fashion director, Ketevan Gvaramadze, who also handles the look and feel of their Instagram account, gives a definitive nod. “It’s our point of view,” she says. “It’s who we are.”


Natalie Massenet, founder and executive chairman of the Net-a-Porter Group explains why print is so important to this digital pioneer, “Print is an enormous part of the business landscape, but more importantly, it’s an important part of our consumers’ life habits.”² She’s talking about the company’s fashion magazine, Porter.

Targeted at the global woman, Porter’s aim is to hang around on shelves and coffee tables. It’s not explicitly about shopping – but a more understated approach. It’s about storytelling, and the way clothes make you feel, rather than how you look. It’s about looking at clothes on someone in a place you’d like to be. Porter’s editor in chief, Lucy Yeoman, says, “It’s really about putting that whole fashion experience in the context of…life.”²

And, lying behind the print is a complementary digital experience, which is more about the cut-outs of the clothes.


Here’s an example of a company that understands its target customer. These are catalogues that tell a story – taking their subscribers on a journey of discovery. This is a journal to inspire and engage, offering a glimpse into an enviable lifestyle.

Missy Peltz, chief creative officer for Anthropologie, said the retailer has been expanding its digital marketing but realizes that “there is something special about holding a beautiful book of imagery in your hands.”


This menswear company originally started as an online-only presence, adding a print catalogue to its marketing mix eight years later, in 2015. Featuring models on location in clothes to fit the climate, the focus is on colour and aesthetics. The company responsible for what was referred to by Racked as “The Brotherhood of the Flattering Pants” used its catalogue to drive subscribers to bricks-and-mortar ‘guideshops’ or online for fit. Recently acquired by Walmart, all eyes are on the next moves.

Want to create catalogues that get better results?

Your Smartmail Marketing™ solutions specialist can help drive better results with print in the mix.

Contact an expert


1 Canada Post’s 2018 eShopper research shows that women’s fashion topped online purchases by Canadians in 2017. 56% of Power shoppers (13 – 24 purchases/year), 58% of hyper shoppers (25 – 40 purchases/year) and 65% of hyper elite shoppers (41+ purchases/year) bought from this category.
2Inside Net-a-Porter’s Strategy for ‘Porter’ Magazine The Business of Fashion. YouTube Feb 6, 2014. The Business of Fashion’s Imran Amed speaking to Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet, editor-in-chief Lucy Yeomans, and VP of Publishing & Media Tess Macleod Smith.