R’Bonney Gabriel, a 28-year-old Houston native, was crowned the 71st Miss Universe pageant on Saturday, competing as Miss USA. The model and fashion designer beat out Amanda Dudamel from Venezuela and Andreína Martínez from the Dominican Republic, who were also in the top three, for the coveted title. The competition was held in New Orleans, with 84 women from around the world vying for the crown.
Back in October, Gabriel made history when she became the first Asian-American as well as the first woman of Filipino descent to win Miss USA. She was also the first Filipina to win Miss Texas. A 2018 graduate of the University of North Texas, Gabriel runs her own independent clothing label out of Houston called R’bonney Nola. She is also a sewing instructor at Houston-based nonprofit Magpies & Peacocks, which collects and reuses post-consumer clothing, scrap textiles, and accessories diverted from landfills to create sustainable clothing.
During the final question and answer segment of Saturday night’s competition, the top three contenders were asked how they would work to demonstrate Miss Universe as an empowering and progressive organization if they won the title. Gabriel answered that she would use her platform to be a “transformational leader” and emphasized how she uses fashion as a force for good by cutting down on pollution through using recycled materials when she makes her clothing.
“I teach sewing classes to women that have survived from human trafficking and domestic violence,” Gabriel said. “And I say that because it is so important to invest in others, invest in our community, and use your unique talent to make a difference. We all have something special and when we plant those seeds for other people in our life, we transform them and we use that as a vehicle for change.”
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