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Ralph Dunning sets out to make a new name

Namesake for popular apparel golf brand has moved on to create Foreign Rider, a minimalist athleisure brand that transcends golf

For almost two decades Ralph Dunning made some of the most technical clothing worn by golfers the world over.

But what is it like when you leave a brand that’s still got your name on it?  

While Dunning Golf continues on — the brand is available in nearly 1,500 pro shops worldwide — the guy whose name is on nearly every piece of product that comes off the line is no longer a part of it.

Instead Dunning, who lives in Toronto, has launched a new line of athleisure wear for men called Foreign Rider.

“If I already changed the game once,” Dunning said, “I can certainly have an impact on changing it again.”

Foreign Rider Shop
Founder Ralph Dunning has created Foreign Rider to be a brand that will not only appeal to golfers, but also athletes with other interests.

Dunning launched the Dunning Golf line of performance golf wear in 2001 after watching friends race an Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. He was already designing and manufacturing clothing for cyclists and decided to apply his knowledge of performance and technical fabrics to the golf space.

About five years into his first foray with the company that bares his name, Dunning entered a meeting with a major Canadian golf retailer. Dunning was told that his was the No. 2 brand in sales behind Nike. He looked at the other members of the meeting in awe.

This company — which would go on to have even more global success after a photo of Mike Weir wearing its rain suit at Augusta National appeared on the cover of Canada’s national newspaper and again after Zach Johnson won the Masters wearing the gear — was started in Dunning’s basement.

“People always ask me, ‘How did you build Dunning Golf from your basement to a global brand with no budget?’ We went out and talked to people. That’s how we built that company,” he said. “You have to know what you stand for and you have to make good product, and if you don’t, you don’t survive.”

Dunning left the company in January 2020 and admits it was a big “emotional gut check” when he walked away from a brand that had his name on it.

But Foreign Rider, he said, was the kind of company built for athletes and people who want to live the kind of lifestyle he enjoys — digging music, photography, surfing and cycling. Foreign Rider isn’t actually a golf company.

The first retail location of Foreign Rider is in Toronto’s Beaches neighborhood, and there are plans to have 10 locations around the globe.

He’s also been in touch with Grove XXIII — Michael Jordan’s club in Hobe Sound, Fla. — and Foreign Rider will be available in that shop. The manager there, Dunning says, was looking for well-made, locally produced apparel that fit well.

“He wants to buy stuff that guys want to wear every day,” Dunning said. “That’s what we do.” 

For now, just zip-up sweatshirts and hoodies are available online, but Foreign Rider will lean into performance gear that men can wear all the time, including pants, a short, a polo, and a quarter-zip.

As a golfer himself — Dunning is a longtime player and a member at a club just north of Toronto’s downtown — he knows golfers will be naturally attracted to his new gear.

Dunning is sourcing American-grown cotton and all the knitting and dying is being done in Canada, something that will reduce water-usage at dye houses overseas and airfreight and carbon emissions.

“That’s why people who play golf embrace what we’re doing and our process and how we’re making stuff,” Dunning said.

Some guys want to just wear authentic golf company gear, Dunning said, while many others want to wear brands, like Lululemon, that have nothing to do with golf. The key is that Foreign Rider isn’t defining what someone is in order to be a customer.

Whether you’re a cyclist, a surfer, a trail runner, or a golfer, Dunning says, if you’re athletic and like spending time outdoors and are conscious of the decisions made that impact the planet, then there are the reasons why Foreign Rider will be appealing.

“Why is Lulu having success in the golf space even though they don’t make golf apparel? Because they make good product,” Dunning said. “We’re just making athletic clothing and if that crosses over organically into golf, that’s OK because that’s the way the game is going.”

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