Rigging Controversy Now Beyond Her, Houston Native R’Bonney Gabriel Looks Ahead to Her Reign as Miss Universe
The Texas Beauty Queen on Her Milestone Wins and Pushing for Sustainability in FashionBY Courtney Dabney // 03.15.23
Houston native R'Bonney Gabriel carries not only her crown, but also her message during her reign.
Miss Universe arrives in Malaysia along with the two runners up on her first overseas tour.
R'Bonney Gabriel is now juggling three crowns at once - Miss Texas, Miss USA, and Miss Universe.
R'Bonney has just completed a tour of Thailand and Malaysia with the owners of the pageant.
Miss Universe shares her ambition and her motto - If not now, then when?
One famous Texan now finds herself juggling three different crowns. Houston native R’Bonney Gabriel began collecting them in rapid succession last year when she was crowned Miss Texas in July. Then, in October she became the 71st Miss USA ― and the first ever of Filipino descent. Finally, on January 14, the Houston-born beauty was crowned Miss Universe in New Orleans, breaking the decade-long drought for American winners, and becoming the oldest winner in the history of the pageant at the age of 28. But unfortunately, the milestone wins weren’t without controversy.
After her Miss USA win, fellow contestants made allegations that R’Bonney was pre-selected to win the pageant. While the reigning Miss USA took the high road, biting her tongue and refusing to sling mud, an investigation was launched.
“Following the rigging allegations, the Miss Universe Organization launched a third-party investigation, and Crystle Stewart, who was president of Miss USA at the time, was suspended indefinitely,” stated an Insider.com report in mid-January. “A spokesperson for the organization told Insider that the investigation found the Miss USA judges’ scores were accurately recorded and no winner was pre-selected.”
With that speed bump officially in her rearview mirror, it’s now on with the show. Following her tour of Southeast Asia to launch her reign, Gabriel will return to her hometown of Houston to celebrate her win as the 71st Miss Universe this Saturday, March 18.
PaperCity caught up with the Texas-born beauty in the midst of her travels.
PaperCity: How does being a Texas native and your own Houston upbringing shape your view of the world?
R’Bonney Gabriel: Growing up in Houston gave me an open-minded outlook on life. Houston is home to every culture and ethnicity.
My high school experience was such a great time in my life. We had every cultural background at school and I was friends with everyone. I hung out with different crowds because I played volleyball, played oboe in the band, and attended yearbook class. This upbringing shaped me to accept anyone for who they are and showed me the beauty of so many different people.
PC: As the child of a Filipino immigrant, what does it mean for you to represent your state, your country, and now the entire UNIVERSE?
RG: I have extreme pride and am honored to represent the home where I was born and raised ― Houston, Texas. My heart is overjoyed to be able to continue my father’s work of immigrating to America and building the American dream. When I won it not only felt like a win for me, but a win for my family, my hometown, and my Filipino-American culture.
PC: When did you become passionate about sustainable fashion, and decide that was your mission and path in life?
RG: I first started sewing at age 15. I grew up visiting thrift and vintage stores with my mother to buy our clothing. I would always find unique pieces that would never fit me, so my mom would alter them on the sewing machine. She showed me how to take something and make it into my own ― which is where I really started upcycling without even realizing it.
After sewing for 5 years, I watched a documentary on the issue of pollution in the fashion industry, which really opened up my eyes to those issues. From that day on, I realized I needed to be a part of the solution to make fashion more sustainable in the industry.
PC: I know you are also passionate about teaching abused women and those who have been trafficked about the life skill of sewing. How did you get involved? Why is it important to be involved?
RG: I got involved in a local nonprofit design house ― Magpies & Peacocks. I always wanted to use my passion for design for the greater good in the world. When I found Magpies, it felt like the answer I was searching for and I immediately got hired on the spot during my first visit there. I was happy to have found a design house committed to sustainability by designing collections from upcycled and donated material.
I also became the lead sewing instructor to women that have survived human trafficking and domestic violence. This position filled me with much more than just designing beautiful clothing, and I believe our talents and blessings in life are meant to be shared with the world.
PC: Your favorite phrase is “If not now, then when?” What does that mean to you? What do you hope it sparks in others?
RG: It is the saying I grew up hearing from my father, and I sell t-shirts with the saying in my sustainable fashion line R’Bonney Nola. This has taught me to always take action with goals immediately, and never put them off until tomorrow. Because tomorrow can turn into the next day, and then the next day, and then maybe they never happen.
I hope this is a constant reminder to others to never procrastinate on the things we want in life. We should always hold ourselves accountable to take action now.
PC: Your three current crowns will be relinquished this year, one by one. How do you intend to take your time on the world stage and your amplified platform forward when you pass the Miss Universe crown to your successor?
RG: After Miss Universe, I will continue to bring awareness and push for sustainability in the fashion industry. I dream of it being the new “normal” in fashion. This is my life mission, so it won’t stop when I give up the crown. I will continue to build my fashion brand and be a leading voice for sustainability in the fashion industry.