TOKYO -- The much anticipated Friday release of Uniqlo's AIRism face masks met with massive demand online and off, as would-be customers overwhelmed servers and stood in long lines as rain poured down outside of stores, prompting a flood of social media photos.
"There is currently a problem with the connection to our online store due to a large number of accesses from customers," Uniqlo says on its website. "We apologize for any inconvenience. Please wait a while and try to access the website later."
The servers remained down past midday. Uniqlo says it is working hard to restore the site.
At Uniqlo's physical stores, customers were pictured standing in lines while hoisting umbrellas and waiting for stores to open. One photo showed dozens of customers in several lines inside a shopping mall.
A notice has been put up at stores instructing customers that they should first obtain a ticket, that they can only purchase one set of each size and the time they can trade in their tickets.
Some stores ran out of stock by midday, according to Aldo Liquori, Fast Retailing's corporate communications chief. Uniqlo will produce 500,000 packs every week, Liquori added.
One Twitter post says people were angry they couldn't buy masks after lining up since early in the morning.
A store in Kawaguchi, north of Tokyo, put up a notice that it would hand out tickets at 8 a.m., two hours before opening time. But the store soon had to put up another notice apologizing for running out of masks.
The notice, posted on Twitter, says the store will eventually restock the masks, though it could not say when or if it will accept preorders.
#AIRism began trending on Japanese Twitter as people tried to share information about how to get the masks.
The masks are made of the same material used for the brand's AIRism underwear. The material is marketed as being cool and fast drying. The masks are made of three layers, one of which is a filter to block bacteria and pollen. Another layer blocks ultraviolet rays.
With summer's first big hit product on its hands, Fast Retailing is again hoping to demonstrate its ability to design products customers feel they need. The AIRism masks also reflect consumers' continued coronavirus concerns, weeks after the national state of emergency was fully lifted.
Customers can buy the AIRism masks in Uniqlo stores across Japan or via the company's website. The white masks come in small, medium and large. One package of three costs 990 yen ($9). The company would like to sell the masks overseas in the future, but at present they are only available in Japan.
Uniqlo is not alone in Japan in having been overwhelmed with face mask demand.
Japanese electronics company Sharp released masks in April, at the height of the coronavirus crisis, and met with massive amounts of orders that overwhelmed its online shopping portal and forced the company to put sales on hold and introduce a lottery system.