Actress, fashion influencer, art aficionado… It’s no secret that Fiona Xie is a woman of many diverse interests, but these days, she is first and foremost a businesswoman.
The one-time television starlet – whose popularity soared in the 2000s with leading roles in Channel 8 mandarin sitcom My Genie (2001), and home-grown idol drama, The Champion (2004) – has over the years pursued work in art, fashion, and photography since announcing her retirement from acting in 2009.
Currently, the 40-year-old is focused on helping to grow Singapore-based start-up Treedots as one of its investors. Founded in 2017 as a surplus food marketplace for F&B businesses in Asia, the company has now expanded with a social commerce feature that allows consumers to purchase surplus groceries at up to 90 per cent off retail prices, as well as providing businesses with cold-chain logistics optimisation services to help improve supply chains.
In November last year, it was announced that Treedots had raised a Series A funding round of $11 million, which will go towards investing in its operations in Malaysia and other expansion plans in the region. Led by venture capital firms East Ventures and Amasia, a global firm focused on sustainability and climate solutions, it marked the start-up’s first significant round of seed venture capital funding.
But why Treedots? Fiona explains that she has always been interested in venture capitalism, and “how it helps early-stage businesses to grow and scale”.
“[The investment] resulted from my venture partnership with Amasia. I was interested in Treedots as it is Asia’s first vertically integrated food supply chain ecosystem that’s advancing the sustainable food marketplace in Singapore, and recently, Malaysia,” she adds.
Fiona felt a kindred sense of purpose with the start-up’s philosophy and cause, as sustainability is something she feels very passionate about. “With the escalating climate crisis, and increasing inequality and environmental degradation, sustainable business models are no longer an option, but an imperative. Food security is particularly critical to Singapore where over 90 per cent of our food is imported. I envisage a future where investing sustainably is the norm,” she enthuses.
To further her foray into the world of business, Fiona shares that she has “entered the rabbit hole” of online courses since the start of the pandemic. So far, she has completed a Harvard University leadership programme, among others.
“[I’ve also taken] fascinating ones like Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Evolution Of Money, Bitcoin And Cryptocurrency, global art advisory Metis’ course on art collecting, Sotheby’s Art And Technology From Artificial Intelligence (AI) To Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT), and even a deep fake AI class at the National Gallery. The world is my oyster!” she exclaims.
Fuelled by creativity
The idea of Fiona Xie geeking out over cryptocurrency and NFTs shouldn’t come as a surprise. Prior to the pandemic, the vivacious multi-hyphenate led a jet-setting lifestyle where she threw herself into new and novel pursuits.
In 2012, Fiona headed the Shanghai outpost of local cult fashion boutique Surrender, where she also led a sold-out collaboration between Japanese accessories brand Ambush and South Korean superstar G-Dragon.
She recalls: “Shanghai was pulsating with wealth and grit. It was a bold move to be there all alone, to set up a business in such a ‘cowboy town’. Despite my limited mandarin, I survived unscathed, thankfully. It was such an experience to be able to curate a multi-label store that featured a chimney from Versailles, and housed in a hotel designed by renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta.”
Prior to her time in Shanghai, Fiona had spent a year living in Japan. There, she worked as a producer for award-winning Polish documentary filmmaker and photographer Tomasz Gudzowaty. Some of the projects that she assisted with involved capturing Japan’s sumo wrestlers, who are highly revered celebrities in the country, as well as the underbelly of the Yakuza.
But her stint in photography wasn’t just a mere dalliance – she professes a love of the arts and names Argentine-Italian painter and sculptor Lucio Fontana as one of her favourite artists “at the moment”. Fiona has even become a private curator who procures artworks for viewings for friends and family.
“I have always been exposed to art since I was young, and even worked with Perrotin Gallery when I was living in Hong Kong. Going to the artists’ studios and engaging in conversations with artists, friends, writers and collectors helped me grow my knowledge and fuel my curiosity,” she says.
Right now, Fiona is exploring the possibilities of making traditional or privately owned art more accessible through NFTs, a project inspired by a deep interest in the art world and web 3.0 (the next evolution of the Internet), as well as her frequent visits to art fairs around the world.
“My most recent trip to Art Basel Miami gave me exposure to new projects in the cryptocurrency, NFT and digital asset landscape. It was where all the major players congregated to share ideas.
“Next up, I will probably be visiting Art Dubai, and then the 59th Venice Biennale 2022 in April. I would have loved to be able to teleport to the Nomad (a travelling contemporary art exhibition) at Switzerland’s St. Moritz, but alas…” she trails off wistfully.
Older, wiser and stronger
Fiona’s known for her bubbly and cheery demeanour, which has endeared her to local audiences here. Her public persona, however, belies a deeply emotional and passionate character that would once make personal sacrifices for love without a moment’s hesitation.
When she exited showbiz at the height of her acting career in 2009, it caused shock waves throughout Singapore. Back then, her star was on the rise – the young actress was considered one of television’s A-listers and was even named one of Mediacorp’s “seven princesses” alongside fellow actresses Joanne Peh and Rui En.
Later in 2020, a Channel 8 talk show interview revealed that Fiona dropped her career as she was leaving the country with her then-fiance, who did not want her to continue acting. She spent the next few years living in Hong Kong and New York, before breaking up with her fiance following her grandmother’s death, which devastated her. The trauma of it all led her to “shut herself away”.
Fiona has since emerged from her hiatus with comeback turns in local English drama, Left Behind (2016), where she played a psychiatrist, and hit Hollywood blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians (2018), in which she took on a comedic supporting role as social-climbing gold digger Kitty Pong.
Fiona remains tight-lipped when queried about whether she will reprise her role in the highly anticipated sequel.
“As many [would] know, Covid-19 has affected the entire film industry and many movie projects have been delayed, including the Crazy Rich Asians sequel. I’d be excited to provide more updates in the coming months,” she says.
Coy as she might be about her acting projects, Fiona certainly has much to look forward to. Looking back at her experiences, what would she tell her younger self?
“I’ve always been a creative and passionate person. I’m still a romantic, but with greater maturity; I have learnt to control and moderate my emotions better. I would tell my younger self that showing emotions is a sign of strength, but letting them control you is a weakness. One must constantly evolve and grow,” she says.
Starting a new chapter
These days, a more grounded Fiona enjoys cycling along Singapore’s park connectors and immersing herself in the city’s lush green brackets.
“I’ve been delving into the corners of Singapore on my little Linus bicycle and my tiny, not-so-fast-and-furious legs. I got [the chance] to fall in love with the city from a very different perspective, and to appreciate its flora and fauna in all of its glory!
“I’ve also explored the wonders of nature with adventure company The Untamed Paths, and gone on a guided walk of Singapore’s intertidal habitats, where I saw fascinating creatures lurking luminously in the dark of the night. This unique experience definitely made me feel like part of a scene from the Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher,” she shares.
Ever the art lover, Fiona is taking time to traverse the local arts scene. One of her most memorable excursions was to the Singapore Art Museum, where she viewed a mixed media exhibition by home-grown experimental rock band The Observatory.
Says Fiona on her new-found hobbies: “I’ve been learning to live with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, (while) prioritising health and time with family and close friends, being present, and having more intentional and purposeful conversations.”
And family is what keeps her close to home – Fiona even gave up a filming opportunity in Malaysia to be with them during the Covid-19 outbreak.
“My family has always been my pillar of support. Through them, I have learnt the importance of resilience, humility and humour. We have an immense love for food, so that’s our binding glue. A family that eats together, stays and grows together. Hopefully, not too much sideways though!” she laughs.
So what else is new with Fiona Xie? With a sparkle in her eyes, Fiona leans in to share what she’s looking forward to in this next chapter of her life after turning 40 in January.
“I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore a myriad of interesting projects, be it Crazy Rich Asians, launching a multi-label fashion business in Shanghai, or producing for Tomasz Gudzowaty. I believe one should constantly push new frontiers.
“My friend recently shared a reading with me, and this is what I would love to embrace: “Polymath, provocateur, possibilist, pioneer.”