Japan’s most-anticipated face mask will hit shelves from June 19, 2020, as global apparel retailer Uniqlo announced the launch of the Airism mask at all Japan stores. The mask is designed dry quickly and stay cool – just in time to help residents bear the heat of Tokyo summer.

In the early stages of the global new coronavirus pandemic face masks were not to be found in Tokyo. Customers lined up outside pharmacy stores, waiting for new shipments to arrive. In April, Japanese electronics maker Sharp temporarily suspended online sales of newly released face masks after excessive demand crashed the website. Homemade facemasks became all the rage as people customized designs. Then to much derision, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spent ¥46.6 billion ($430 million) of taxpayer money to send two reusable face masks to every household in Japan.

Even though Japan’s state of emergency – implemented to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections – has ended, residents are encouraged to continue wearing face masks in public to mitigate the effects of a second wave – which is considered inevitable.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) says Covid-19 spreads mainly through respiratory droplets, and wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as supermarkets and pharmacies (and trains) may slow the spread of the virus.

Enter Uniqlo

Fast Retailing, the parent company of Uniqlo, already donated 10 million masks to high-priority medical facilities in Japan. Now they have developed special Airism masks that will initially be sold in packs of three available for ¥990 (plus consumption tax).

The only color currently available is white, and the masks come in three sizes: small (for children) and medium and large for adults. Purchases will initially be limited to one pack per size to maximize availability for as many customers as possible, with plans to manufacture 500,000 packs weekly.

The reusable Airism mask can be machine washed with regular household detergent up to 20 times and still remain efficacy. The mask employs a triple-layer structure. A high-performance filter sits between the outer mesh fabric and the Airism layer. The filter delivers a bacterial filtration efficiency of 99%, blocking droplets, bacteria, virus-contaminated particles and pollen. The outer mesh fabric has a UPF 40 rating, which means that it cuts 90% of ultraviolet rays.

The face mask was developed in response to feedback from customers seeking a reusable, comfortable item that provides daily protection. Uniqlo leveraged its unique technology to balance performance and comfort in items that are washable and can be worn throughout the year.

Airism – Groundbreaking Technology

Airism, Uniqlo’s brand of highly functional underwear, was launched in 2013 to much acclaim, with critics calling the silky smooth material “the next best thing to being naked.” The high performance fabric was designed with comfort-enhancing features, including odor control functions as well as the ability to quickly absorb and release trapped moisture and stay cool to the touch.

Distinct from non-woven or cotton masks, the Airism face mask is smooth on the skin. The inner Airism layer prevents stiffness or thickness, and it continues to feel comfortable even after a long time of use.

AIRism masks will be sold in stores in Japan, including the Japan online store, as a regular item going forward. Even after the introduction of the first product, the company will continue to improve the quality and functionality of the mask. Uniqlo is planning a phased launch of this product in markets outside of Japan, and details will be announced in each market closer to the time of introduction.