Fil-Am Miss Universe pitches Filipino fashion as EU deplores imitation goods in Divisoria, Greenhills


Sonny Coloma

The triumph of Filipino-American Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel at the Miss Universe pageant last weekend landed on the front page of the Manila Bulletin. A designer-entrepreneur, she wore an evening gown designed by a Filipino couturier. Just below, the headline of another front-page story read: “EU flags Baclaran, Divisoria, Greenhills, Cartimar as hubs for counterfeits.”

Before we explore further on how these two stories converge, let’s pause to get to know our new Miss Universe better.

The Filipinos’ disappointment over Miss Philippines’ candidate, Filipino-Italian Celeste Cortesi’s non-inclusion among the top 16 was soon overshadowed by the triumph of her compatriot. It was reported that almost a hundred members of the Gabriel clan witnessed R’Bonney’s coronation in New Orleans. She was the first Filipino-American to win the Miss USA title representing Texas.

The new Miss Universe’s name was taken after her father’s. According to an entertainment website, Remigio Bonzon ‘R Bon’ Gabriel immigrated to Washington state at the age of 25 and earned a doctorate in psychology from the University of Southern California. Her mother, Dana Walker, is a native of Beaumont, Texas. She is the eldest child, with three brothers, and she won the Miss USA title as Miss Texas.

She earned a degree in fashion design, with a minor in fibers, from the University of North Texas. She established her own sustainable clothing line, R’Bonney Nola, and is CEO of the enterprise that promotes the brand. At Magpies & Peacocks, a non-profit firm in Houston, she serves as the lead sewing instructor. The firm advocates Fashion as a Force for Good in promoting sustainability in communities, using discarded textile remnants from landfill and converting these into fashionable clothes.

During the Miss USA competition, she wore clothes that she designed, using Maria Clara colors and flower designs that were used in her mother’s wedding gown to “champion my love for my Filipino roots.” Her advice to beauty contest hopefuls: “Tap into what makes you special, and what makes you unique, and fully embrace that. As the first Filipina-American Miss USA, I embrace that wholeheartedly, and I think it’s what makes me strong.”

This brings us to our second topic.

The European Union, in its latest Counterfeit and Piracy Watch List. Has flagged four local markets – Baclaran, Cartimar, Divisoria and Greenhills – as hubs of counterfeit and piracy activities.

The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHIL) promptly vowed to help rid the four markets – and similar outlets – of outlawed goods and thus remove this glaring stigma on the country. Previously, the United States also called the country’s attention on this matter.

IPOPHIL has called the attention of the concerned local government units, namely, Parañaque City (Baclaran), Pasay City (Cartimar), Manila (Divisoria) and San Juan City (Greenhills) to enforce the provisions of the Intellectual Property Code of 1997 and the Department of Interior and Local Government’s IP-related regulations. Business permits are issued by LGUs to stores that serve as distribution points for illegal trade and commerce.

But that is addressing only the supply side of the equation. What is more critical is nipping in the bud the demand for illegal or pirated products.

Our new Fil-American Miss Universe is showing the way by proudly declaring her pride in Filipino-inspired and Filipino made clothing and apparel. During her year-long reign as Miss Universe, she will have ample opportunities to be a leading influencer for Filipino fibers and fashion. As she generates worldwide attention, concepts and products that are identified with the Philippine brand would gain higher levels of popularity and patronage.

Appreciation of things that are designed and made in the Philippines does not imply disdain for foreign brands. The campaign seeks to discourage patronage for counterfeit and pirated products. This is a tall order that requires sustained efforts in public communication to raise awareness on the importance of respecting intellectual property rights of individuals and companies as badges of good governance and upright citizenship.

The triumph of Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel once more underlines the significance and impact of the Filipino diaspora. Her Filipino father migrated to the United States and married her American mother. This makes her a natural-born Filipino citizen in accordance with the 1935, 1973 and 1987 constitutions. While growing up in the USA, she appears strongly rooted in Filipino values, culture and norms. She is a global Filipino who, while highly conscious of her national identity, skillfully imbibes the best elements of other cultures that enable her to attain her highest human potential.

Filipinos who patronize counterfeit and pirated goods out of a misguided desire to be associated with prestigious global brands would do well to emulate R’Bonney Gabriel’s sense of integrity. As she propagates the idea of Fashion as a Force for Good, she embodies the ideals of a transformational leader.