Crowning the 2022 Miss Universe winner for sustainability.
The Miss Universe competition is an annual major international beauty pageant that has taken place since the early 1950s. The competition is a space for women of all cultures, backgrounds and religions to share their stories and drive impact personally, professionally, and philanthropically. According to the Miss Universe Organization, the overall goal of this competition is for the participants to serve as inspirational leaders and role models to their communities and fans around the world.
The 2022 Miss Universe winner, R’Bonney Gabriel from Houston, Texas, made headlines for several reasons when she was crowned. Although the United States holds the most winners, R’Bonney was the first American to win in the past ten years. She is also the first Filipino-American ever to win the competition. But what really sparked interest is that she is the first contestant to bring sustainability into the competition.
2022 Miss Universe winner R’Bonney is an eco-friendly fashion designer, model, and sewing instructor. Ever since she was young, she gained a passion for sewing, which stemmed from her mother who took her to thrift shops to find pieces to upcycle with their own designs. Moreover, learning from her father’s Flipino heritage, she developed a mindset of not overconsuming.
2022 Miss Universe winner R’Bonney earned a degree from the University of North Texas in Fashion Design and Fibers, which eventually helped her to launch her sustainable clothing line, R’Bonney Nola. R’Bonney Nola is committed to supporting ethical practices in the fashion industry. R’Bonney’s clothing line uses upcycled and sustainable textiles to transform discarded materials into handmade garments. The clothing line also received a Gucci Changemaker grant for their work in transforming unwanted textiles and fabrics from landfills into new fashion collections.
R’Bonney showcased her skills and passion for the environment in the Miss Universe bikini competition by walking down the runway wearing an upcycled swimsuit cape from scratch. All of the materials used were secondhand. The cape was dyed orange with sustainable dyes, and she molded used plastic bottles using just a flame from a candle. Plastic bottles were meant to show how art can be made out of what we perceive as trash. The words “If Not Now, Then When?” were emblazoned across the back of the cape. 2022 Miss Universe winner R’Bonney demonstrated the entire process on her Instagram account to show viewers the possibilities of creating an outfit out of upcycled materials. She is the defacto 2022 Miss Universe winner of sustainability.
2022 Miss Universe winner R’Bonney also created a unique rehearsal look by upcycling her friend’s jacket and an old jumpsuit because she wanted to make something new with the jumpsuit she already had. R’Bonney uses her social media platforms to help raise awareness about the fashion industry. She is also the lead sewing instructor at Magpies & Peacocks, a Houston-based nonprofit design house that emphasizes sustainability and community impact.
Although the Miss Universe Competition has no “rules” that require participants to make sustainability a part of their wardrobe, participants can do a few things on their own. These include:
- Borrowing and restyling existing clothes from designers to reduce the need to create new styles from scratch every time.
- Buying from brands that value ethical business conduct and respect for the environment.
- Asking their designers to use dead-stock fabrics in some way to lessen the amount of materials being thrown into the garbage.
Having a Miss Universe participant and a winner who promotes ethical fashion is a huge step toward helping to promote more sustainable and conscious choices within the fashion industry. It also sets positive examples for others to follow and shows that it is possible to create stylish looks while having a limited impact on the planet. We’ll have to wait and see if the 2023 Miss Universe Competition will feature any more sustainable fashion choices.