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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Merkel

WHL hockey player pushing sneaker culture forward in prairies

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Aidan Litke’s WPG sneaker is continuing to flourish in untapped market

Aidan Litke playing Hockey

Hockey sweaters, windbreakers, and toques are a common feature of a Winnipeggers fit check. However, one family is helping add some flair to a city that often forgets there are other things to put on your feet than winter boots and hockey skates.

WPG Sneaker owner Aidan Litke was only a freshman in high school when he sold his first pair of shoes. With only 10 or 15 shoes, and no job or driver’s license, Litke unknowingly began the early stages of his career as a reseller.

A year into buying and selling, while being driven around by his father and expanding to other silhouettes, Litke realized there was a profit to be made.

“The one summer we kept going to the mall and probably spent 10 grand each time we were there.” he said.

“We just kept selling out and selling out, the demand for shoes was really high. I think that’s when we saw a good opportunity to jump on the market.”

After 3 years, Litke opened his first physical location in the back of his dad’s hair salon. Soon after, him and his father took the next step to open a store in the same strip mall on Portage Avenue.

WPG Sneaker

Litke described the shops early days as chaotic. The family had to start from scratch, find shelves, create a brand, and design a store with no prior experience.

Fortunately for the Litkes, business was steady and frequent at that location for 2 years. So much so they were able to make the move to St. Vital Centre this July, a popular Winnipeg mall that offers the store increased foot traffic, and better security.

“Getting robbed was a big thing” he said.

“We got robbed twice. The security here is a bit better.”

Throughout WPG Sneakers journey, Litke had carved out an impressive hockey career.

While playing for the Rink Hockey Academy, Litke was drafted in the sixth round of the WHL Bantam Draft by the Portland Winterhawks in 2018. A couple years split between RHA, and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s OCN Blizzard eventually led to his debut in 2020 with the Winterhawks.

As one of the only half-South Korean skaters in the history of Canadian major junior hockey, Litke has so far tallied 67 points (31 goals, 36 assists), 95 penalty minutes, and a +14 plus/minus rating over 123 games with Portland.

Somehow, Litke’s hockey career, and sneaker business never interfered with each other, something he credited to his supportive family. Even while moving back and forth from Northern Manitoba to Oregon, Litke was able to order shoes to Winnipeg off his phone, and have his father resell them at the store.

“My Dad really stepped up and helped me” he said.

“Without him this wouldn’t even be possible. He pretty much sat there and worked every day. We obviously couldn’t afford employees yet because we weren’t making great income with rent.”

After 3 seasons in the Rose City, Litke was traded to the Edmonton Oil Kings for the final year of his junior hockey career. Although he said he would miss the fans, billets, and teammates back in Portland, he was excited for the new opportunity in Alberta’s capital.

WPG Sneaker vending machine

“Obviously I’m going to miss all my buddies down there [in Portland].” Litke said.

“The biggest part of hockey is meeting all those buddies all those friends, and those moments you have with them. But it’s gonna be cool going to Edmonton meeting all the new friends and hopefully have a good season out there.”

While he is already proud of both his hockey career and business, Litke hopes to have his best season yet, and continue to expand the business. He wants to expand the current location in a year or two, and eventually open another store one day.

Aidan’s father and business partner, Darren Litke, is amazed with where the sneaker business has taken them. From driving back and forth across the city for drop offs, to losing his mind in the early days of the first store, to now having a shop in a mall, he is proud of his family’s work.

Now as one of the largest sneaker stores in the city, the elder Litke said the new location has been extremely successful and highlighted an untapped market in Winnipeg.

He said he’s been blown away by everything his business partner son had accomplished while juggling hockey, school, and work. Litke hopes Aidan can one day turn pro and help grow the WPG Sneaker brand along with his hockey career.

“I’m proud of him to take the opportunity to run his business and push himself in the WHL.” he said.

“It’s not an easy path, it’s a grind, it’s hard. We want to give him every opportunity to continue doing that. That’s why we’ve taken the business on ourselves and putting in the time and the effort to help him be a kid, play hockey and learn some life skills.”



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