Stephanie Benoit October 10, 2016

Dixie Dansercoer’s job is one that most people can only dream of: he is a polar explorer, and after conducting several record-breaking expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic, he now guides small groups of intrepid travelers around the Polar Regions. Eyewear is all-important in the harsh environments Dixie frequents, but due to his high nose bridge, conventional sunglasses often left a fatal gap between his face and the frame of the sunglasses. Materialise and SEIKO Optical, together with Hoet Design Studio, recently partnered up to create the award-winning Xchanger sports eyewear: a completely customizable, 3D-printed range of sunglasses, which was the perfect solution to Dixie’s problems in finding eyewear to fit his needs. We took the opportunity to speak to him about his experiences with the Xchanger sunglasses during one of his rare visits to his home in Belgium.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Dixie Dansercoer. I’m quite active in the Polar Regions, which is at the same time my big passion for the outdoors. Professionally I’m active in Belgium, Switzerland and the US. When I’m not on the ice, we spend time giving corporate speeches, keynotes, we go to Switzerland and show people how beautiful the mountains are etc. So quite a busy schedule.

Can you tell us about your SEIKO Xchanger sunglasses?

I invest quite a lot of time in research and development when it comes to improving expedition equipment, and since they’re not off-the-shelf products, we need to start from either scratch or develop the product ourselves, or take the example of an existing product and then go beyond what normal companies have to offer. We push the limits and can’t use products that are either too frail or not adapted to the Polar Regions, which is a very harsh habitat. That’s how we met Materialise and SEIKO and decided to do something together.

How did you come across SEIKO and Materialise and why were you interested in working with us? Why not use conventional eyewear?

Eyewear is quite specific. Life on either the Arctic ocean or the huge ice cap in Antarctica brings about quite an attack from Mother Nature with either the albedo effect (which is the reflection of light against the ice), there is radiation, there is a hole in the ozone layer and all of that together makes a pair of sunglasses – or ski goggles, when it gets windy – very important.

I’ve made the mistake of having to spend two or three days in the tent with eyeburn or windburn, and that is something I absolutely want to prevent. During one of the keynotes my wife and I give, we discovered the product, we saw what you do, what a world-player Materialise is and then during the conversations we thought it might be interesting to take the sunglasses as a case study of far-fetched research and development. And from thereon, we’ve come to the final product which is near-perfection

What was your experience with the personalization of the sunglasses? How did it feel like to be a part of the design process?

I think it’s very important to use all technical revolutions as an asset for our goals. The manufacturing process of 3D Printing for sunglasses makes it possible to totally mold a pair of sunglasses to my not-so-normal face, I have a high nose bridge, so all my sunglasses were way too high and I could look through the bottom of my normal sunglasses which let in the albedo and the radiation, so there was definitely room for improvement. And with the scan of my face and then adaptations afterwards, we’ve come to a perfect pair of sunglasses. I expect that this will become a new trend, because people will have the possibility to really customize and personalize their own very unique pair of sunglasses.

“Eyewear needs to do two things: fit perfectly, and protect your eyes. Sometimes when you buy a wrong pair of sunglasses it’s only when it’s too late that you start noticing the itchy feeling of the eyes and then you have eyeburn, but for the SEIKO pair, the fit and the vision were perfect.”
Dixie Dansercoer, Polar Explorer

What was your experience with the personalization of the sunglasses? How did it feel like to be a part of the design process?

I think it’s very important to use all technical revolutions as an asset for our goals. The manufacturing process of 3D Printing for sunglasses makes it possible to totally mold a pair of sunglasses to my not-so-normal face, I have a high nose bridge, so all my sunglasses were way too high and I could look through the bottom of my normal sunglasses which let in the albedo and the radiation, so there was definitely room for improvement. And with the scan of my face and then adaptations afterwards, we’ve come to a perfect pair of sunglasses. I expect that this will become a new trend, because people will have the possibility to really customize and personalize their own very unique pair of sunglasses.

How did the glasses perform on your polar expedition?

Eyewear needs to do two things: fit perfectly, and protect your eyes. Sometimes when you buy a wrong pair of sunglasses it’s only when it’s too late that you start noticing the itchy feeling of the eyes and then you have eyeburn, but for the SEIKO pair, the fit and the vision were perfect.

Which in the case of my previous pair of sunglasses was always bothersome, I always had problems wearing sunglasses. It is not an agreeable thing to do for me, to put eyewear on, they fog up sometimes, they bother you when you have to look in different directions, but the new pair was really a nice addition to all of the customized gear.

Tell us about the craziest thing you’ve ever experienced during your travels.

I’ve had a couple of close encounters of course with high-risk situations but they solved themselves in most cases. I’m sitting here with ten fingers and ten toes. I’ve been a careful risk-taker. But one of the more beautiful encounters was with an animal you rarely see during expeditions in the Arctic, which is the polar fox. It’s a scavenger and eats whatever the polar bears leave behind, and we were not expecting to see one in Greenland a couple of years ago. It’s such a shy animal that it was quite unusual but suddenly it started coming towards us in a direct line, and before I knew it the fox bit me in the boot! I had to kick it away out of self-defense, but an Inuit man who was with us said it wasn’t normal behavior and that it must have been rabid. But I thought that was just such a fine confrontation with the unusual nature of animals in a very hostile environment.

seiko01.jpgInterested in getting your own SEIKO Xchanger? Check out the website! Or read more about our 3D-printed eyewear projects on the Materialise blog. You can also join Dixie Dansercoer on the ice during one of his expeditions with Polar Circles.