It started as a joke, but now people spend a fortune on bottled fresh air. One day in early 2015, Moses Lam and Troy Paquette filled a Ziploc bag with fresh air and posted it to eBay. The bag sold at the asking price – 99 Canadian cents, about 60p – and what was at first a joke between friends suddenly became less fanciful. The pair filled another bag and posted that online, too. When the media took note, a bidding war began, and the item ended, as hot tickets on eBay normally do, with an improbable surge. It sold for C$168 (£99).
Carefully, they developed a product robust enough to survive divergent postal systems: an aluminium canister connected to a plastic mouthpiece through which customers could inhale air siphoned from remote locations in Banff, Alberta, where the pair live. Next they conducted cursory research on air pollution, and soon they identified a primary market: Los Angeles, a city at once health-conscious, plagued by cars, and susceptible to wild fires, which fill the atmosphere with toxins. “We said: ‘Let’s model this after bottled water’,” Lam told me. They named their company Vitality Air.
A few months later the company received an order for 5,000 cans, which were shipped exclusively to cities in China.
A new strategy emerged: to target the inhabitants of the world’s most polluted cities, some of whom were unable to walk 200m without inhaling damaging levels of pollutants.
There is now luxury air, cold-pressed air, mountain air, air for new mothers, air for work, for kids, for grandparents.
Start-ups in Switzerland and Australia launched similar products: canisters filled with compressed air collected from areas of outstanding natural beauty. Normally the sites were rural and marketable, locations already associated with purity, or adventure holidays: Banff, Lake Louise, Lucerne, Sydney’s Blue Mountains. There is now luxury air, cold-pressed air, 100% mountain air.
Given the actual product, most items are expensive – an 8-litre Vitality Air canister costs C$32 (£19); on average, we each breathe 6 litres a minute – but some are more expensive than others. Leo De Watts, an Englishman who coined the term “air farming” – a strategic coup at the dawn of a new industry – began to fill clip-top jars with air from hillsides in Dorset, roping his family into an outlandish collection process that involved very tall nets. In reference to Greek mythology, he named his company Aethaer. A 580ml jar sets customers back £80.