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Exclusive: The Oscars are finally becoming more sustainable - with the help of Miss Universe

The 2023 Oscars will take place on March 12

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Rebecca Lewis
Rebecca Lewis - Los Angeles
Los Angeles correspondentLos Angeles
Updated: March 12, 2023
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The 2023 awards season is the year of green; Livia Firth hosted the first Green Carpet Fashion Awards, James Cameron's wife Suzy's organisation RCGD Global hosted an intimate dinner to draw attention to the importance of more sustainable practices, and the Academy has partnered with RCGD Global to provide guests with a Sustainable Style Guide.

The guide’s suggestions include exploring vintage options, opting for textiles derived from natural sources, supporting independent craftspeople and brands owned by people of color, and going cruelty-free with plant and food-based leather alternatives. The Fabelmans' actress Chloe East and Avatar: The Way of Water's Bailey Bass and Zoe Saldana, will be ambassadors for RCGD Global on Sunday March 12, while Miss Universe 2023 R'Bonney Gabriel hosted the dinner on March 9 with Tati Gabrielle and Twilight actress and entrepreneur Nikki Reed.

For 28-year-old R'Bonney - who only began entering pageants three years ago before winning Miss Universe in January 2023 - the opportunity to partner with the Academy and RCGD Global is a dream come true. She has been a sustainable fashion designer for years, and it was her platform at the iconic pageant.

Here, she tells HELLO! about working with Miley Cyrus, how sequins and sparkle can be environmentally friendly, and her best advice to consider the planet when shopping.

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(Credit: Tracie Karasik)

Why was it important to partner with RCGD Global?

This is a huge opportunity, not only for me because I'm a sustainable fashion designer, but partnering as Miss Universe as well. I get to bring in the pageant community and collaborate with RCGD Global and the Academy to promote sustainable fashion in both worlds.

It's really great to be a spokesperson and a brand ambassador for sustainable fashion on such a big platform because it's something I'm very passionate about as a designer, to show people how you can wear amazing fabulous pieces even on the red carpet and they can be upcycled or eco-friendly.

Where did your love for sustainable fashion come from?

I grew up with most of my clothing coming from second hand stores or thrift stores. I would go with my mom to vintage stores and I would find pieces that I really liked, but they wouldn't fit me or I'd want to alter them in some ways.

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(Credit: Tracie Karasik)

My mom had a sewing machine and she really introduced to me how to alter pieces to make my own, and so I was upcycling at a young age just because that's what I learned, without realizing the bigger purpose of it.

Then years ago I watched a documentary called The True Cost about the fast fashion industry and how the industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world and said, 'Okay, this is something I can actually take action on as a designer to cut down on pollution.'

What other sustainable celebrities are inspiring you?

I'm a huge fan of Rosario Dawson because she has an ethical fashion initiative. She actually partners with artisans in Ghana so I would love to not only meet her but work with her. I love the work she's doing. Miley Cyrus promotes an animal cruelty free lifestyle through not only her clothe but also when she performs, so she would be a dream client for me.

How can we all make small steps away from fast fashion? 

Second hand stores can be overwhelming so look to swap clothes with your friends because we all have a lot of clothes and sometimes we walk in our closet and feel like we have nothing, but we probably have a friend that feels the same way.

When you swap clothes, it feels new all over again.

How can Miss Universe as an organization become more sustainable?

I'm finding people are willing to collaborate, but there's definitely a lot of room for improvement with gowns. We only wear them once or maybe twice, but many of the girls do then sell it on a website so that way they get more use out of them.

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But in the fashion world in general, even outside of pageantry, it's hard for me to find pieces to wear that are sustainable. I definitely feel like I'm always on the hunt so that's why I feel it's my mission as a designer, as Miss Universe with this platform, to promote it as much as possible because it's really my hope for this to be the new normal.

As a designer, what are the pieces that you're kind of looking forward to creating the most? Would you design ball gowns and formal wear for red carpets for pageants?

As part of my year as Miss Universe, I'm looking forward to collaborating with the sustainable fashion house from my hometown in Houston, which is Magpies and Peacocks. We upcycle a lot of pieces or we have people donate old fabrics where we make collections so that can be anywhere from streetwear or gowns.

What advice do you have for little girls in pageants and how can they ne environmentally-conscious?

To keep costs down, use the Queenly App, which is where a lot of gowns are being sold from former girls that have competed. Reach out to your resources, as well, whether that's a family member or friend; they may have a gown that doesn't fit you but you can alter it so you can take it to the tailor.

I think that's something people forget - you can always take something to a tailor even if it's a sequin gown and they can fit it to you.

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(Credit: Tracie Karasik)

When I was at Miss Universe, over half my looks were borrowed from people so I didn't have to buy them and just wear them once. Don't be scared to ask people just to wear their pieces once or twice; just make sure you take it to the dry cleaners and then give it back.

Is there anything that you've learned that you would do differently now?

A lot has happened in these three years, but I would say to young girls when it comes to fashion and style, don't be afraid to embrace your own style, even if it's unique. I think pageantry kind of has that classic style that everybody feels like they have to follow. But in this world, pageantry is actually about breaking down stereotypes and really embodying who you are and you can express that through your style.

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Even if you feel like it's not a pageant gown, don't be afraid to show that on the stage or even just through your social media.

What's next for you?

Well, I'm less than two months in as Miss Universe and so all of 2023 will be focused on the duties of Miss Universe, promoting sustainable fashion which is my platform or the other organizations that Miss Universe partners with like Smile Train, and Best Buddies.

I'm really looking forward to a lot of public speaking opportunities and growing not only myself but the brand of Miss Universe through advocacy and charity work; one of my bucket list events would be to attend and promote sustainable fashion at the Met Gala.

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