Do you know what these four retailers have in common?

  • L. Bean
  • Lands’ End
  • Pottery Barn
  • Bloomingdales’

They all made the list of Target Marketing’s 2015 Top 50 Mailers by Volume.

There’s a reason why these and countless other fashion industry staples still turn to catalogs as a primary sales tool: They work.

Now, when we say “they work,” we don’t necessarily mean that readers are calling the 1-800 number on the back of their mailings to place an order for this season’s hottest pair of oxfords (although, admittedly, there are plenty of customers who still do just that). Instead, the purpose of fashion catalogs is shifting to a much more subtle sales role — at least on the exterior.

You see, today’s fashion brands aren’t simply producing catalogs to showcase their products; they’ve morphed into the realm of selling lifestyles. The production value, editorial content, and high-end touches have taken them, as The Wall Street Journal describes, from shopping tools to shopping bait.

Fashion marketers are using catalogs as a vehicle to drive deeper, long-term brand engagement. Brands like Anthropologie and Patagonia see catalogs as a multi-page opportunity to tell their brand’s story and make their customers feel as though they’re part of a more exclusive lifestyle, purpose, or image.

It’s this increased focus on visual appeal — featuring known models, setting up photo-shoots in faraway places, and minimizing blatantly sales-y content — that has helped fashion catalogs find their way out of the recycling bin and onto coffee tables. They’re fast becoming staples in customers’ personal spaces, and they get picked up, flipped through, and referenced frequently. It’s a level of interaction that online-based marketing hasn’t been able to replicate.

Take U.K.-based clothing retailer Boden for example. The same WSJ article reports that their shoppers reportedly spend as much as 15-20 minutes with Boden’s catalog, as opposed to just eight seconds on an email. It’s safe to assume that much of this company’s ongoing growth is, at least in part, due to their catalogs continuing to drive online sales.

Clearly, this isn’t the only company benefitting from this symbiotic marketing relationship. The fashion industry as a whole is proving that while trends may come and go, there’s one marketing tool that will never go out of style: The fashion catalog is here to stay.