Lighter than air

In 1978, Nike’s Air technology made its debut in the soles of the Nike Tailwind. Nine years later, the Air Max 1 showed the world that innovation has nothing to hide, adding a visible bubble to exhibit Nike’s proprietary technology.

Now, Air takes its next step forward. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the iconic Air Max 1, the Nike Air VaporMax is Nike’s most advanced shoe yet.


»The Nike Air VaporMax is really the intersection of performance and style, delivering performance benefits with an all-new, clean, modern aesthetic.«

— Brett Holts, VP of Running Footwear at Nike

The VaporMax sole mold is composed of over 39,000 components, making it more complicated than a high-powered car engine. It took approximately fifteen tries to get the shoe perfect, since the material is fused directly to the Air bag.

As a result, the sneaker is light, extremely responsive, and extraordinarily flexible. The FlyKnit upper is reinforced with Nike’s FlyWire lacing system for a snug fit, bringing it one step closer to working in total harmony with the body.

“From a design perspective, we have a goal to create a simple, elegant solution,” says Andreas Harlow, VP and Creative Director of Footwear Design for Nike Running. “It was all about reduction, getting rid of all the extraneous things that get in the way of that sensation, and amplifying the feeling of running on air.”

Previous Air Max models treated the Air bag more like a mattress under the foot. The VaporMax turns the concept into more of an engine, with the Air functioning like pistons along the sole, providing support and flexibility where runners need it most.

“If you look at the shoe closely you’ll see areas that are very tightly knitted, and other areas that are more elastic and more open,” adds Harlow. “That requires an incredible amount of tuning concurrently with the Air bag development.”


For over 35 years, Nike’s patented Air technology has evolved and been manufactured within the secretive walls of the Air Manufacturing Innovation (AIR M.I.) facility. With one building located off Nike’s campus in Beaverton, Oregon, and another in St. Louis, Missouri, both factories have quietly made over 3.5 billion Nike Air sole units.

Each sole is inflated in custom-made machinery, and a rigorous inspection process culminates in a test that subjects each sole to the equivalent of 400 miles of running, ensuring they live up to Nike’s exacting standards.

Air bags that don’t make the cut are actually reground and made into new ones. As a result, 90% of AMI’s (AIR M.I.) waste is recycled and reused.

AIR M.I. employs more than 140 innovation and engineering experts, and eight PhDs. Aiding them is a workforce of thousands watching over the manufacturing process every step of the way. And Nike plans to amp up their production facilities, growing from 400,000 sq. ft. to an estimated 550,000 sq. ft. by 2018.

Words by Jian DeLeon
Editorial Director

Jian DeLeon is the Editorial Director at Highsnobiety. He is based in New York.