Miss USA R'Bonney Gabriel wins 71st Miss Universe after making history twice in 2022

ByRosie Nguyen KTRK logo
Sunday, January 15, 2023
Houston native prepares to represent USA at Miss Universe on Saturday
Houston's own R'Bonney Gabriel will represent the USA at the Miss Universe pageant on Saturday in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana -- Congrats to Texas' own R'Bonney Gabriel as she won Miss Universe 2022! She made history twice last year when she became the first Asian American woman to win the title of Miss Texas USA in June and then the first Filipina to win Miss USA in October.

The video above is from a previous report.

Gabriel spoke to our sister station, ABC13, before she left for New Orleans two weeks ago and shared how her national win was a dream come true. Up to that point, it had been 14 years since Texas took home the Miss USA crown.

"It all happened so fast. When they called my name, I didn't realize I won. It was probably about five seconds and I'm not reacting. Then I felt that sash come over me. It was just such a rush of feelings and I tell people you kind of black out because there's so much going on. It was just pure, utter shock really," she said.

Her mom is from Beaumont and her father is an immigrant from the Philippines. To Gabriel, preserving and celebrating her culture has always been a priority. Although she never saw a state titleholder that looked like her, she never let that hinder her confidence.

"I took that win home for my family, for my community, for Houston, for Texas, and for the Asian American community," Gabriel said.

The Houston native dazzled judges and fans with her unique and stylish wardrobe, taking home the Best State Costume award in an outfit inspired by the Texas bluebonnet. Her national costume, titled "Woman on the Moon", is a tribute to the NASA Space Center in Houston, which is working to send the first woman to the moon.

She is known for her passion of environmental sustainability in the fashion industry. Her biography on the Miss Universe website states she was a high school volleyball player who pivoted to fashion and quickly fell in love with constructing designs with fabrics and textiles at the age of 15. She earned a bachelor's degree in fashion design from the University of North Texas in 2018.

Currently, she works as the lead sewing instructor at Magpies and Peacocks in the EaDo district, teaching sewing classes to survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. The nonprofit design house is dedicated to using "fashion as a force for good" through sustainability and community impact.

"I think when people think about fashion, they think about the surface level -- beautiful clothes and beautiful people. But there's so much more you can do within the industry. The industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world," she said.

Gabriel added, "When you think about how a shirt is made, there's a lot of extra fabric that's just thrown into the landfill. So my mission is to use that excess fabric or recycle and upcycle different fabrics, and make new beautiful pieces from it to combat the issue of pollution in my industry."

Typically, Miss USA resides in Los Angeles during her year of service, but Gabriel said she's spent most of the last three months in Houston to prepare for the Miss Universe competition. Gabriel competed alongside 83 other contestants in New Orleans on Saturday.

She is the first Miss USA to take home the international title in more than a decade and move to Thailand for her year of service. She also plans on continuing her own clothing brand, "R'Bonney Nola", and serving as an ambassador for her platform.

"I want to be remembered as a very hard working, unique woman that really embraced my passion for fashion. I want to be remembered for embracing who I was and really just putting my best foot forward, embracing my culture and owning who I am. I hope that inspires everybody else, too," said Gabriel.

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