June 19, 2020 / 3:41 AM / 23 days ago

Japan shoppers queue, crash website for Uniqlo's washable masks

People wearing masks stand in a line to enter Uniqlo's newly launched shop in Tokyo, Japan June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese shoppers queued at Uniqlo stores and crashed its website on Friday as the clothing chain began selling face masks with breathable fabric used in the brand’s popular underwear, preparing for the coronavirus outbreak lasting through summer.

Scenes of people standing in the rain waiting for stores to open were seen throughout Japan and broadcast on Twitter, while Uniqlo’s online store apologised for crashing and later selling out of the washable Airism masks.

The company said more will become available as it was stepping up production. The masks are sold in three-piece packs for 990 yen ($9.26) plus tax, and are available in three sizes.

Prospects of a prolonged crisis have encouraged Japanese consumers to buy and make reusable, washable versions even as disposable masks, initially in short supply, have become more easily available.

Face masks are not mandatory in Japan, but are usually worn in public, particularly in stores and on public transport. They were a common sight even before the global pandemic during flu and pollen seasons.

The company has said it plans to eventually make the masks available in overseas markets.

Shares in Fast Retailing (9983.T), which owns Uniqlo, rose around 1.9% on Friday.

Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Michael Perry and Raissa Kasolowsky

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