“I think that’s something that all brands can promote, making sure they’re doing more quality control instead of just putting out new pieces every single day,” the beauty queen says.
It’s been more than a week since she was crowned Miss Universe, and R’Bonney Nola Gabriel is still getting used to her new life.
“I feel like I am still learning how to adjust. My life has changed so much in so little time. I am only a little a week over as Miss Universe now, and I feel like it hasn’t sunk in yet. But I am just grateful for this change. If anything, I am just staying grounded and grateful. I know my year is going to be busy; it’s going to be fast, but I’m somebody who likes to pause first thing in the morning and just wake up and reflect on my life,” she tells Vogue Philippines in an exclusive interview.
So much in so little time, indeed. After winning Miss Texas USA and then Miss USA in 2022, she went on to compete in the 71st Miss Universe Competition on January 15 in New Orleans, besting 83 other candidates. Born to a Filipino father and American mother, R’Bonney is the ninth representative from the USA and the first Filipino-American to take home the Miss Universe sash.
In her top 5 interview, she said that she would like to see an age increase among the candidates to compete. Should the next batch of Miss Universe aspirants expect that to happen anytime soon?
“I am not sure; I have not heard from the organization,” she says. “I know it’s really up to them, but my whole core message there was to let women know and feel that it’s never too late to start on a new venture or to start a new goal and go after it.”
Through her months-long journey to win the crown, the 28-year-old sustainability advocate says that she has learned that “I find so much more happiness when I am myself. People actually like when I am not as perfect. I am more relatable. When I can have that human connection and if I slip up or stutter on my words, that’s completely normal. I don’t give myself that pressure to be perfect. The goal is to inspire and to connect.”
Speaking about her roots, R’Bonney also feels that this is the time for Asians to be celebrated even more. She acknowledges the global success of Asian actors Michelle Yeoh and Dolly de Leon during the recently concluded Golden Globe Awards and Critics’ Choice Awards in the same month she won.
“I feel thankful to be a part of that. I hope it does open more doors,” she says. “I hope it really inspires Asians all over the world to break down barriers, being the first of anything in their career field and continue to push the envelope forward. We’re smart. We’re intelligent—just like any other culture. But it’s great to celebrate it.”
Fashion for good
R’Bonney was a volleyball player in high school before she discovered her interest in fashion design at age 15. After completing a degree in Fashion Design at the University of North Texas in 2018, she taught sewing to women who were victims of human trafficking and domestic violence at Houston’s non-profit design house Magpies and Peacock.
She has also established her own eponymous brand R’Bonney Nola, which already has debuted three collections, including t-shirts printed with her favorite question: “If not now, then when?”
“Something that I am focused on is using fashion as a force for good,” she says. “Over the next 11 months, I am looking forward to expanding on that, meeting with people and growing my network to help me grow my business and learn more about the business side of things.”
While she is in New York, she is exploring different initiatives and ways to collaborate with designers that also have a mind for sustainability. “I love modeling so much, and I am hoping to get more opportunities as well,” she adds. “I have a wish list of people that I like to work with. I used to intern for Nicole Miller. She’s a designer here in New York that I have reached out to. Nothing is set in stone yet. I also have a dream collaboration with Nike because I absolutely love sneakers.”
But her advocacies are always at the forefront. “I want to continue to bring awareness [to] the issue that fashion has created all over the world. It’s the second largest polluting industry in the world. Now, we consume over 400 percent more textiles and shirts and clothing than we did 20 years ago,” R’Bonney shares.
The solutions won’t be easy, R’Bonney admits. “It’s actually very complicated because it’s a little bit more expensive to be sustainable when you use recycled fabrics for example,” she explains, sharing a time when she sewed denim fabrics into oversized ruffles and attached them to a tiered dress.
“I think there are a few things that companies can do, whether that be looking into their factories where their stuff is made, making sure there’s no child labor, making sure the women are being paid fairly,” R’Bonney says. “And then for me, I also want to make sure that I buy quality over quantity, and not [over-consume] it. I think that’s something that all brands can promote, making sure they’re doing more quality control instead of just putting out new pieces every single day.”
She will make sure to use this platform she was just given, and she has a great opportunity to “spread awareness on that, not only through my clothing brand, through the sewing videos that I make but also going and speaking about it as well, hopefully working with like-minded people to show the world that we need to be more conscious when we think about fashion.”