KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — An East Tennessee designer is fighting for her art after seeing a big clothing line copy her design without her permission.

She hopes her story serves as a warning to other local makers to protect their work.

Maranda Vandergriff owns and designs art for her company Vagabondary.

This is the design she drew sitting on her couch one night last year.

Design by Maranda Vandergriff

She thought it was cool, so she shared it on social media, and started printing it on things to sell in her Etsy shop.

Then last week someone saw a shirt with her design in a sponsored social media post from a well known clothing company called Nasty Gal.

They were selling a shirt with a nearly identical design on it, and she had no idea.

"My jaw and my heart immediately dropped because obviously I recognized it, it's the exact same design that I had created," said Vandergriff.

There are some slight differences. The Nasty Gal shirt features the moon flipped in a different direction, has a few more stars, and the fingers look longer.

"But it basically looks like someone just took a picture and drew over the original design," said Vandergriff.

Shirt comparison

Seeing her design replicated by a bigger company came as a shock.

"It was really hurtful that my art had been taken and was being used and sold by someone else, but it was also kind of a weird validation that my design had made it here," said Vandergriff. "But then I wasn't getting to see any of the profit or the results from it."

Her art was not copy-written or watermarked in any way.

One expert said trying to do so may not have made a difference.

"Fashion changes so often," said Michelle Childs, Professor of Retail and Consumer Sciences at UT. "So you think about how long it takes to copyright an item. By the time it goes through the legal process, they're on to the next thing with fashion."

But art is more timeless than fashion, and Childs said Vandergriff could benefit from copyrighting her design.

That's what she intends to do from now on.

"All original art as soon as it's made is covered under intellectual property regulations, but there are some other steps you can take to protect yourself further," said Vandergriff.

Friends, followers and strangers rallied behind Vandergriff on social media after she called out Nasty Gal.

Tweet by Maranda Vandergriff

After thousands of people posted on social media platforms demanding Nasty Gal remove the product, they did.

"I think that since there has been so much public backlash that it may have put a little bit more pressure on the company to resolve the situation and move quickly on it."  

10News reached out to Nasty Gal but has not heard back.

The company's legal team did contact Vandergriff.

She said they told her they take matters like this seriously.

Vandergriff is seeking legal advice later this week before she responds to their email.

She'd love to have them or other places sell her design as long as she gets credit and they go through the proper licensing channels.

But more than anything, she's happy to see how many people are now supporting small artists.

"People value the integrity of artwork and they value where their items are coming from," said Vandergriff.

Vandergriff said she'd love to have Nasty Gal or other companies sell her design as long as she gets credit.