Why Are Nike Air Max So Expensive? (Explained)

In short: Nike Air Max is so expensive due to research and development of its technology, the Nike Air. Some limited editions also drive up the price of the shoe to stratospheric levels.

While the Nike Air Max is inspired by running, it is not a pair of running shoes. Many people love them for their modern aesthetics and lightweight cushioning. But why is the pair so expensive?

What is so special about the Nike Air Max?

Nike Air Max shoes are special due to their “Air units” or “airbags”, which are translucent pouches of pressurized air embedded in the midsole and visible from the outside of the shoe.

The air compresses on impact and then immediately returns to its original shape and volume, ready for the next impact, which is why many people adore the Nike Air Max technology.

In my opinion, Nike Air Max shoes are extremely comfortable and most people wear them for the height increase. The air block in the heel will boost you about an inch and a half.

It is also a well-known shoe silhouette produced by the popular brand Nike, which is why many people wear the shoe just because everyone else around them wears it.

Why are Nike Air Max shoes so expensive?

The cost of research and development of the Nike Air technology, as well as consumer demand, both contribute to the Nike Air Max’s expensive price. Not to mention limited edition releases.

1. Limited edition releases

Like everything else in the world, the price of sneakers has consistently gone up over the years. This is due to inflation, of course, but even more so, due to market demands.

In this day and age, sneakers are the most popular on the resale market, especially limited editions. This is where a new kind of retailer comes into play, called consignment shops.

When limited edition sneakers enter the resale market, they become more valuable due to their rarity and exclusivity. As a result, the value of their box price is going to skyrocket.

I think Nike has played this very well, creating scarcity through limited items and partnering with brands and celebrities. Now, some Nike Air Max shoes have become a scarce commodity.

For example, a Brooklyn-based creative label MSCHF produced a customized Nike Air Max 97 that evokes the miracle of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14:25.

The “Jesus Shoes” is unique, to say the least.

The pair have been filled with 60cc of water that was originally sourced from the River Jordan and then blessed, meaning wearers are able to, theoretically, walk on Holy Water.

Within a minute of the shoe’s release date on October 8, 2019, the shoe sold out. Now, you can find the shoe in sneaker resale marketplaces starting at $2,500 USD.

Other limited editions, like the Eminem Charity Series, were auctioned off for $50,000, while the Nike Air Max 1 Master Friends and Family are currently offered on StockX for $55,000.

The extreme rarity and customer demand have contributed to the Nike Air Max’s expensive price, a sign that the silhouette is often more than just a pair of Nike sneakers.

2. Research and development (Nike Air)

Apart from the shoe’s limited edition releases, the “standard” Nike Air Max sneakers that are available to the general public already cost more than the average pair of sneakers.

The Nike Air Max 270 costs $160 per pair, while the Nike Air Max 97 costs $180 per pair. Both prices are higher than the average retail price of sneakers of $110 in 2021.

Since 2005, Nike has invested more than $5 billion in research and development, with $2.5 billion (estimated by Morgan Stanley) spent between 2012 and 2017.

A big part of this budget was spent developing the Nike Air, the technology used in Nike Air Max shoes, which consists of pressurized air inside a tough yet flexible bag.

The technology provides more flexibility and spring without compromising the shoe’s structure. With each step, Nike Air absorbs impact and returns to its original shape to protect the body.

Obviously, developing such a unique technology does not come cheap. Nike, as a company, needs to obtain profits, which is why it would need to sell Nike Air Max at a higher price.

In short, Nike Air Max has more technology, which costs more in terms of research and development than say, Roshe Runs (which tend to be cheaper), and hence the higher price tag. 

3. Consumer demand

People love the Nike Air Max, whether it is expensive or cheap. The shoe is super comfortable, functional, and well-cushioned. Here’s what some people had to say about the shoe:

“Finally, a “lifestyle” Air Max. This is the first 100% Nike lifestyle-inspired Air Max design. What that means is that it is the first Air Max to actually be geared more for casual wear than for actual running.

– Sean Shimana (Coach at Nike)

“The Air Max 1 looks better with jeans than the Air Jordan 1, with its slightly puffed tongue and lower cut. Not to forget they’re infinitely more comfortable, without being bulky or sacrificing aesthetics for function.”

Matt Welty (Senior Editor of Complex Sneakers)

Because the Nike Air Max is better than the average pair of sneakers, the higher-than-average price is well-justified. People are willing to pay a premium for high-quality sneakers.

The fact that Nike is already a household brand, and that almost everyone can obtain a pair of Air Max for $200 or less in retail stores around the world, broadens its appeal.

At the end of the day, the price of a certain pair of sneakers is always going to be dictated by consumer demand, and there’s no denying the fact that the Nike Air Max is truly beloved.

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