City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

Behind the Scenes with Miss Universe

Houston's own Miss Universe, R'Bonney Gabriel, uses her history-making platform to promote her love of sustainable fashion and Filipino-American culture.

Article by Gabi De la Rosa

Photography by Photography courtesy of Fadil Berisha

Originally published in Memorial Lifestyle

The Miss Universe competition has always been a platform for young women to showcase their beauty, intelligence, and passion for making a difference. This year's winner, R'Bonney Gabriel, not only embodies all of these qualities, but she also defied the odds by starting her pageant career later than usual and winning the title at the age limit of the competition. Hailing from Houston, R'Bonney's love for sustainable fashion and her Filipino heritage significantly influenced her journey to becoming Miss Universe 2023.

Gabriel's foray into the pageant industry at 25 came after several people repeatedly encouraged her to enter pageant competitions. Gabriel initially aimed to challenge herself to overcome her shyness and communicate better. However, after being the first runner-up in her debut competition, she caught the "pageant bug" and began to dream big.

Gabriel's meteoric rise came after entering just three pageants in an industry that most train their whole lives for. She won Miss Texas in Spring 2022. Three months later, she became Miss USA, and three months after that, in January 2023, she was crowned Miss Universe. 

The Texas-native credits determination and training for her win.

"It takes a lot of work to win – I had no idea until I joined pageants. For two and a half years, I trained daily to get to Miss Universe. I did hair lessons, make-up lessons, walking lessons, weekly interview lessons, mock interviews, and watched the news constantly to keep up with current events," she says. "I also spent lots of time designing and sewing my outfits for the competition. Pageantry took over my life, so I didn't have time for much else, but it was ultimately worth it."

In addition to tailoring her pageant gowns, Gabriel put her sewing skills to work at the Houston-based nonprofit fashion house Magpies and Peacocks. Gabriel heard about the organization through a friend and was intrigued by their commitment to upcycling and their work with survivors of domestic abuse and human trafficking. 

"When I walked in for my first tour, Ahshia, the co-owner, offered me a job as the lead sewing instructor for the MAKR program, which offers sewing classes to Houston women who have survived domestic violence and human trafficking," says Gabriel. In this role, she helped provide women with skills that could lead to future employment while also working as a designer and lead campaign model with the nonprofit. "Fashion can be a force for good. Magpies and Peacocks are doing fantastic work by diverting fashion waste from landfills and creating beautiful pieces that promote sustainability. I am proud to be a part of such a wonderful organization."

Gabriel's Filipino heritage has also significantly influenced her journey to becoming Miss Universe. She is proud of her roots and has used her platform to showcase the beauty and diversity of Filipino culture. She notes that being biracial makes her unique, and she embraces the opportunity to be a champion of what makes her stand out. "Being the first Filipina-American to win Miss Texas, Miss USA, and Miss Universe is a huge honor, and I hope this inspires others to embrace their unique culture. I also hope this opens the door for more representation in pageantry."

As Miss Universe, Gabriel will travel extensively worldwide, and one of the stops she is looking forward to the most is visiting the Philippines. She also notes Filipinos are pageant super-fans, giving her a lot of support throughout her competitive career, adding, "I can't wait to celebrate with them in person later this year."

Although Gabriel has had a fantastic experience as Miss Universe, she has also confronted the downside of being in the public eye. The 28-year-old says that dealing with cyberbullying and hate comments is sometimes hard, and although she does her best to ignore it, she now understands that she can't please everyone. "There will always be people that support me, and there will always be people that don't want to see me succeed," she says. "I just remind myself that my self-worth does not come from other people's opinions about me."

Gabriel will be on the road more than she will be in Houston throughout her reign as Miss Universe. On the rare occasion she is home, she says the perfect day includes coffee at Segundo Coffee Lab in EaDo, a bike ride through the Texas Medical Center and the Heights, and ensaymadas at Godo's Restaurant, followed by a Thai massage. According to Gabriel, thrift shopping, dinner at a new restaurant, and a stop at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, would complete the perfect weekend.

Gabriel's journey to becoming Miss Universe 2023 is a testament to her perseverance, hard work, and commitment to making a difference. Her love for sustainable fashion, Filipino heritage, and dedication to environmental causes has made her a role model for young women worldwide. As Miss Universe, Gabriel plans to continue promoting sustainable fashion, diversity, and inclusivity – inspiring others to chase their dreams regardless of age or background.

  • R'Bonney during dance reversal days prior to Miss Universe.
  • Miss Chile, Anne Jakrajutatip and Miss Universe, R'Bonney Gabriel
  • R'Bonney take a minute for a quick photoshoot touchup.
  • Olivia Culpo, host of Miss Universe and R'Bonney during the interview portion of the competition.
  • Moments before the annoucement with Miss Venuezela.
  • R'Bonney and her family post-show.
  • Miss Universe contestants during the crown unveiling.
  • National Costume Competition
  • Photo credit Fadil Berisha
  • R'Bonney being crowned by Miss Universe 2022, Harnaaz Sandhu of India.

 "Being the first Filipina-American to win Miss Texas, Miss USA, and Miss Universe is a huge honor, and I hope this inspires others to embrace their unique culture. I also hope this opens the door for more representation in pageantry." – Miss Universe 2023, R'Bonney Gabriel

"Fashion can be a force for good. Magpies and Peacocks are doing fantastic work by diverting fashion waste from landfills and creating beautiful pieces that promote sustainability. I am proud to be a part of such a wonderful organization." – Miss Universe 2023, R'Bonney Gabriel