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Underwear maker develops washable nylon masks for schoolkids in west Japan

Utax Co. Chairman Shozo Utaka is seen demonstrating the masks his firm intends to give to schoolchildren in Nishiwaki, Hyogo Prefecture, on March 13, 2020. To the left are some of the innerwear products the company typically produces. (Mainichi/Masato Hirota)

NISHIWAKI, Hyogo -- A company specializing in developing and selling women's innerwear, among other products, has begun using its expertise to create reusable masks, which it will hand out for free to around 3,300 children of junior high school age or lower in this western Japan city.

Utax Co., based in Nishiwaki in the western Japan prefecture of Hyogo, is making the masks mainly from nylon fabrics which keep close to the skin and if washed can be used multiple times. The company's CEO, Daisuke Utaka, 43, plans to hand out some of the products to Mayor Shozo Katayama and other officials at Nishiwaki city hall on March 19.

The company, founded in 1967, employs around 200 people and posted sales of 9 billion yen in fiscal 2018, excluding results from its outposts abroad. Its nylon products are not sewn, but are instead fused together in a special process. The company also has experience making branded innerwear with major clothing firms.

It started to turn its hand to masks around three years ago, producing a small number of them primarily for preventing hay fever. But with it becoming difficult for people to obtain masks recently, the company decided to commit itself to mass production of the items. It is also trying to find a way to develop products that are both cheap and highly effective.

Its new masks are sturdy with high filtration protection. They also have good elasticity, and it's easy to mold them to your face. Although it is impossible to completely block the virus from infiltrating a mask, the company says their product is more than capable of blocking the spread of droplets from wearers coughing or sneezing. The company is also developing products that help keep the virus away from people.

The firm will produce two masks for every student, making a total of 6,600. From March 26 it will give out the masks sequentially to each school in the city. It also intends to hand out masks to students in the town of Taka, also in Hyogo Prefecture.

The company's chairman, Shohei Utaka, 69, commented, "This is one contribution to the community. There's a lot of commotion in society about the lack of disposable masks at the moment, but we want people to be stay healthy using these quick-drying masks that they can wash and use again and again."

For enquiries, call Utax Co. on 0795-23-5511 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Masato Hirota, Himeji Bureau)

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