yarn and knitting needles
Kollage is now owned by Career Services and has gotten a packaging overhaul. The company’s new tagline is, “Knitting Lives Together.”

Photo courtesy of Kollage Square

Kollage Square Needles has been bought by Career Services, a social services agency based in Brockville, Ontario. It may seem like a rather unusual acquisition at first glance, but a closer look at both organizations’ missions reveal that it’s actually a perfect match.

Kollage specializes in creating square needles that allow knitters with arthritis, carpal tunnel, and muscle stiffness to knit comfortably and continue to pursue their passion for the craft. Career Services has spent the last 45 years helping disabled adults get job training so they can lead productive, fulfilling, and independent lives. For Ryan Billing, who has served as Program Manager at Career Services for over a decade and is now also Business Operations Manager for Kollage Needles, the synchronicity between the two is obvious.

“At Career Services, it’s not about the disability, it’s about the ability. It’s about what the person wants to do, and their passion. Yes, they might have this thing that they’re not good at, or a physical impairment, but we always strive to help the person achieve their goals,” Billing says. “With Kollage Needles, it’s actually the opportunity for somebody to continue with their passion.”

“You often hear stories from people who say I’d given up knitting and then I stumbled on your needle and now I’ve gotten it back. So that’s just a complete match for Career Services.”

crochet hooks on a shawl
Kollage’s crochet hooks have an ergonomic square shape with a comfortable thumb rest. They allow users to crochet with less hand strain.

Photo courtesy of Kollage Square

Looking to acquire

Career Services has a job placement portfolio of Fortune 500 companies including P&G and 3M. “So, if you go buy a Swiffer at Walmart, we’ve probably done the end packaging or the display,” Billing explains. “Or if you go buy Scotch-Brite pads, you know how they come in those sleeves? We do all of that end stuff for them. We’re a service to major manufacturers to do a lot of the manual labor that they don’t have the ability to automate. And, I think they love what we do. It’s mutually beneficial.”

For years, though, the agency has yearned to own a business outright which would allow them to offer more on-site job training opportunities and more end-to-end control over the experience. “When you’re the middleman for a large corporation you’re dealing with the ebbs and flows of their business,” Billing explains.

Louet North America, the former owner of Kollage, was one of Career Services’ clients. When they mentioned they were looking to sell, it was the perfect opportunity. “It just meshed together,” Billing says.  “We already had a relationship with them.” Several staff members came to Career Services from Louet after the sale, bringing their knowledge of the business.

Product research

After the sale went through, Career Services did an assessment of the Kollage product line, talking to local yarn shop owners to learn what needed to be revamped. “We did our research and what we found was a great product with low visibility,” Billing explains. “This was a high-end needle that was getting lots of positive feedback from consumers.” They found the negative feedback centered around the interchangeables, specifically on the plastic change tool which broke easily. So they completely redesigned it. “It was just product quality. We spent the time and money on equipment over the last four or five months and really got comfortable with that before we did the relaunch,” Billing says. The new one has a steel tip with a detachable magnifier and a light. “It’s dramatically easier to change, and it won’t break,” Billing says. The magnifier and light create additional accessibility.

They also built a new Kollage Square website and redesigned the product packaging to highlight the mission of Career Services. The new tagline reads, “Knitting Lives Together.” All profits from the sale of the needles go back into Career Services core programming.

“The collective focus of Kollage and Career Services is supporting people with disabilities. That’s the sole focus,” Billing emphasizes.

Training opportunities

The Kollage acquisition has expanded Career Services capabilities. They can now train people on fulfilling orders through a Shopify POS system, for example. “We have a gentleman who is autistic and loves numbers,” Billings says. “He is our inventory clerk. He makes sure that both our Shopify and shipping software are working well together. He loves it.”

Other disabled adults who want to be trained as cashiers can now do so on-site in the Kollage storefront where they learn on real SKUs, get trained on how to process credit cards, and learn to process returns. “We’re able to offer so much value this way,” Billing says. “We can train people and then walk into an employer and go, listen, this person has had 30 hours of training on a POS system that looks exactly like yours. They know how to do everything including returns and gift cards. Intricate stuff.” And all the while the company is offering a high-quality product to knitters. It’s a win-win.

Billing says he happy to be learning about knitting. “I think the people involved in the knitting industry have the same kind of passion as the people on the social services side. They’re caring, compassionate people,” he says. “We’re really just enjoying being in this realm. It’s very comfortable for us and very similar to what we do. It’s very warm.” 

people picking orders
Members of the production team pick and pack orders at the new Kollage headquarters at Career Services.

Photo courtesy of Kollage Square

Abby Glassenberg

Abby Glassenberg


Abby co-founded Craft Industry Alliance and now serves as its president. She’s a sewing pattern designer, teacher, and journalist. She’s dedicated to creating an outstanding trade association for the crafts industry. Abby lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

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