1st Asian American woman to win Miss Texas USA will compete in Miss Universe on Saturday

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Friday, January 13, 2023
Houston native prepares to represent USA at Miss Universe on Saturday
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Houston's own R'Bonney Gabriel will represent the USA at the Miss Universe pageant on Saturday in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (KTRK) -- The countdown to the Miss Universe crown is on! In less than 24 hours, Houston's own R'Bonney Gabriel will represent the USA at the international competition. 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.

SEE RELATED STORY: Meet the first Asian American women to represent Texas at Miss USA and Miss America

Gabriel spoke to 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.

READ MORE: This Design House Is Taking Upcycling to the Next Level!

"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."

RELATED: Friendswood's R'Bonney Gabriel, who held title of Miss Texas, takes home crown at 2022 Miss USA

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 will compete alongside 83 other contestants in New Orleans on Saturday.

If she wins, she will be the first Miss USA to take home the international title in more than a decade and move to Thailand for her year of service. But no matter what happens, she 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.

The final competition for the Miss Universe pageant will take place Saturday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m.

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