Jenny Kompolt and Melissa James started Junk Girls in their garage in 2009 with the goal of inspiring others and bringing more creativity and joy into their own lives. We sat down with Jenny and Melissa to learn more about switching from the corporate tech world to art, their secrets to tapping into creativity when feeling stunted, and the largest scale project Jenny’s ever built. If you want to keep up with this creative duo, be sure to follow their weekly “See You at 6” segments and follow them on social media @thejunkgirls & @junkgirls.
Recently tried for the first time?
Jenny: We grew some dark purple tomatoes in our home garden, I made the container out of some old galvanized culvert and Melissa planted them because she is really good at helping things to grow. But let’s just say they look a lot better than they taste.
What inspired you to leave your corporate jobs and start a creative business?
Jenny: Junk Girls started as a form of therapy for me. I struggle with severe depression and anxiety brought on by a difficult childhood, and my therapist encouraged me to explore making art. She asked me which medium I wanted to try, like watercolors or ceramics, and I told her I’d like to try creating things out of items that others would see as trash. I love to find the beauty in the damaged and discarded. Once I started making art and getting asked to participate in local shows my journey as an artist began.
I was formerly the Creative Director at Netflix and Melissa and I both worked at Ebay, so we have a long history in creative departments and commerce. After the art became so rewarding personally and was also being so well received, we decided to launch a business that allows us both to be creative, give back to others and spread some joy. Our first store and gallery were in Cambria, but we live in SLO. Once we had built some success and proven ourselves, we were thrilled to get the opportunity to open our store in our hometown.
You moved into the historic Muzio building as a temporary pop-up in 2018 but are now a permanent fixture of Monterey St. How did that come to be?
We are so proud and honored to be here! In 2018, we were approached by Therese Cron of The San Luis Obispo Collection to open a pop-up in the Muzio Building. This was while we had our store and gallery in Cambria. It was a big decision to close those down, but we fell in love with the character and beauty of this building and space and were excited to establish roots in SLO.
This store is about five times larger than what we had, so we saw it as a great move for us and a way we can support other makers creating with found, vintage and sustainable goods. Therese and her team have believed in us from the very beginning, and we have such strong support from the City of SLO, SLO Chamber of Commerce, Downtown SLO and other local businesses. We are so fortunate to have such an incredible support system here.
How did you come to create installations in Levi’s Stadium?
Jenny: I was approached by Tracie Speca-Ventura of Sports And The Arts, which is an art placement agency located here on the Central Coast. She’d seen my art and display work and wanted to bring in an assemblage artist as a completely different medium to the overall project. I created a total of nine different pieces and had to think big for that project. She gave me themes to work off of and let me just fly! The art pieces in the photos are: Running Back — I created a life-size running back out of old discarded leather football scraps; Mining — I integrated old mining tins with a quote about teamwork; and the Helmet — I assembled a 5 foot square 49er helmet using all my own personal Levi’s jean scraps. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed stretching myself to accomplish it.
You are makers of many different types of art and products, do you have a favorite design or piece you’ve created?
Jenny here: I create a majority of the art, lighting and sculpture and the store is really a giant interactive art installation that I act as the creative director of. I love having this large, fluid space to celebrate so much of what we all do, so that in itself is one of my favorite creations. I enjoy the hunt for the unique and then creating something out of it. My lamps are always fun to make — especially when I have the ah-ha moment of something working all together and the light is almost a secondary aspect. My whole journey started with art therapy so I will always have a fondness for that too. But as a medium, my favorites are working with wood letterpress type, copper & brass with old and worn patina, old wood machinery, parts & pieces out of antique clocks, scientific equipment, rulers & measurement pieces, etc.
Melissa: I do all the hand-stamping using antique and vintage machinist’s punches and recycled metals to include flattened silver plate spoons. I have stamped thousands of items and honestly, I never get tired of doing the custom pieces for people. Seeing their faces after I have created something for them is pure joy to me. I also really enjoy working with Jenny and collaborating with our team where I can bring in my stamping to the projects we’re working on as a whole. I truly love what I do. I love the stamping on the silver plate but brass is another of my favorites.
How is this holiday season going to look different for Junk Girls?
2020 became the year for small businesses to “pivot”. To that end ,we built a much more robust online store. It helped us through the shut-down, but it’s also a great investment for the holiday season. People who can’t travel this year can still shop in SLO! And if locals can’t shop in person for any reason we can still deliver Junk Girl goodness, free gift wrap and curb-side pick-up.
At the same time, we decided to elevate the in-store experience. Most recently we brought in Amy Cooper, a dear friend, mentor and founder of Plum Goods in Santa Barbara, which is helping us grow and allow us the time to create more of what started the Junk Girls in the first place. We’re working closely with her and our devoted staff to map out new ideas, we created a brand new gallery space in back for my art and lighting and grow the overall experience. She has already brought in amazing new makers and is helping in every aspect of the business to offer the most exciting Junk Girls holiday season ever. We are so excited to share it with each and every person who steps in the door or follows us online.
How do you tap into your creativity, especially when you’re feeling blocked or tired?
Jenny: That is an awesome question that I get asked a lot. When I am tired, the first thing I do is decompress & disconnect, which can be hard for me because my brain is always creating. But I walk, exercise or listen to music & sketch. A great solution for when I am blocked is that I organize a section of my studio because when I do that, I see things in a different way and put them aside in little sections like sculpture, art, lighting and then go back to them when I am ready to work. And if something feels forced, I put it all away to come back to when I am ready. Clutter is creative but can be overwhelming and as long as it is organized chaos, I feel fine.
Melissa here: When I am tired, I decompress with sleep, books and a good movie. And when I am blocked, like Jenny, I organize & tidy up my space and materials because I look at things differently that way.
One last question… In your words, why should our community support local?
First of all, this community already does. There’s no way so many of us downtown & local businesses would have survived this past year without the community support both in-store & online. We had people buying for holiday in April & May! So, we feel it is already there and we hope it continues because there are SO many amazing small businesses & restaurants with so much to offer – there’s something for everyone and with that, everyone succeeds.