R’Bonney Gabriel: An exceptional Miss Universe

R’Bonney Gabriel was crowned winner of the 71st Miss Universe pageant held in New Orleans on Jan. 14. Gabriel has made it her life’s goal to create a strong, successful community, with her mission being for all women and young girls to feel inspired and conquer their dreams.

The Miss Universe Organization’s mission is to provide all participating women with the tools to affect positive change personally, professionally and philanthropically. The Miss Universe winner will serve as an inspirational leader and role model for communities and fans around the world.

Gabriel is the first Filipino-American to win Miss USA and America’s first Miss Universe in 10 years. She wants to empower women and those around her, saying, “It is so important to invest in others, invest in our community and use your unique talent to make a difference.”

Miss Universe is judged not only on appearance and style, but also on the poise and confidence with which contestants respond to interview questions.

During the final question round, Gabriel commented on how she wanted to represent Miss Universe and impact change in her community: “I would use it to be a transformational leader. As a very passionate designer, I’ve been sewing for 13 years, I use fashion as a force for good. In my industry, I’m cutting down on pollution through recycled materials when I make my clothing. I teach sewing classes to women that have survived from human trafficking and domestic violence.”

Gabriel is the lead sewing instructor at Magpies & Peacocks, a Houston-based non-profit design house that is dedicated to using “fashion as a force for good” through sustainability and community impact. In her “MAKR Collective” program, she gives free sewing lessons to women who have been through hard times.

Sarah-Jayne Smith, Founder and CEO of Magpies & Peacocks, said, “The global garment industry is responsible for some of the planet’s largest environmental and social injustices – not least of which is its enormous impact on the lives of its exploited workforce. Rebuilding an industry that will care about People and Planet before Profit, is essential to its rebirth – and doing so at a community level is paramount.”

At the age of 28, Gabriel is the oldest Miss Universe Pageant winner to date. There are numerous restrictions that contestants must follow in order to compete, and prior to the 71st Miss Universe pageant, no married woman or mother was permitted to compete. 

Gabriel aims to continue to further stretch these boundaries to allow for a more inclusive event.

“For me, I would like to see an age because I am 28 years old. And that is the oldest age to compete. And I think it’s a beautiful thing. My favorite quote is ‘if not now, then when?’ Because as a woman, I believe age does not define us. It’s not tomorrow, it’s not yesterday- but it’s now. The time is now,” she said. 

Now that she is Miss Universe, Gabriel will travel around the world and visit dozens of countries. During this time, she wants to use her platform to be a “transformational leader” and influence change and progressiveness in fashion, the pageant industry and communities while owning her uniqueness.