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Uniqlo launches new reusable mask line as stores adjust to virus

The biggest retailer in Asia is betting that it has the right product at the right time: a Uniqlo face mask.

Clothing store operator, Fast Retailing Co., said in a statement on Monday, it will start selling reusable face masks in Japan on Friday. According to the company, the masks which will be sold in sets of three and retail for ¥990 ($9), are aimed for both performance and comfort.

Uniqlo enters a group of businesses looking to offer innovative products and services as the coronavirus pandemic upends lifestyles around the world, transforming the way people work, dress and eat. Companies are racing to adapt to that change; Fast Retailing said it was due to customer demand that made their decision to make and sell masks.

Plans will be announced as they are set for selling the Uniqlo masks outside its home base of Japan, Fast Retailing said. With more than 2,000 stores worldwide and annual sales of over $20 billion, it would be one of the biggest retailers to sell masks. Many major apparel manufacturers including Gap Inc., Madewell Inc. and Adidas AG have also recently launched face masks.

Fast Retailing, which intends to manufacture 500,000 mask packs a week, will use its breathable AIRism fabric for the masks, which it designed with Japanese textile company Toray Industries Inc.

The masks have a 99 per cent bacterial filtration efficiency which, according to the statement, is retained even after 20 washes. AIRism is also used to sell breathable summer clothing, which may improve its popularity ahead of the hot and humid summer in Japan, where officials have begun issuing alerts about the increased risk of heatstroke while wearing a mask.

Face masks, widely worn in Japan and other Asian countries, were cited as one possible explanation why transmission of the COVID-19-causing virus in Asia has been lower. In the U.S., the use of masks has stirred controversy amid mixed messaging from leaders.

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